One year before the 2010 election, Gavin Newsom quit the marathon campaign for governor-on the very day that Democratic rival Jerry Brown stumbled for the first time in the race.

Struggling to raise money while badly lagging Brown in the polls, San Francisco Mayor Newsom abruptly withdrew from the contest last week, saying his civic and family duties prevented him from devoting the necessary energy to an expensive statewide campaign. In a coincidence of timing that symbolized Newsom’s ill-starred run, his announcement came within hours of a published report that politically embarrassed Attorney General Brown, the disclosure that his press secretary had repeatedly, and secretly, taped telephone conversations with reporters-acts that were possibly illegal and, most certainly, politically stupid.

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Brown’s man, Scott Gerber, effectively busted himself when he cited a transcript of a call to his office from S.F. Chronicle reporter Carla Marinucci while in the process of complaining about her to her editor. State law largely prohibits taping another person without telling them, and Gerber fell on his sword three days after his questionable actions came to light. Despite his resignation, many questions about the incident remain unanswered-namely, what did Jerry know and when did he know it?-and it remains unclear if throwing Gerber under the bus will be enough for Brown to put the controversy behind him.

When the Democratic dust had settled, Newsom was off to spend more time at City Hall, and with his wife and newborn daughter, while the attorney general was the last man standing, if a bit unsteadily, in the campaign for his party’s nomination. Amid a few, insubstantial rumors about other candidates jumping into the race, Brown suddenly enjoyed the great luxury of a clear field on the pathway to next June’s primary, in stark contrast to the wide-open, three-way race shaping up on the Republican side.

For Brown, respite from a typically fractious Democratic primary battle would afford him six months to build the big campaign fund he will surely need if either former eBay CEO Meg Whitman or Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, two ¼ber-wealthy ex-Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, captures the GOP nomination. Whitman and Poizner are also opposed by a third Bay Area denizen, former congressmember Tom Campbell, who has little money but lots of policy smarts and political experience.

Twelve months before Californians cast their ballots for governor, here is a rundown on the campaigns and messages of the major candidates:

MEG WHITMAN: With a self-referential slogan-“I refuse to let California fail”-and frequent boasts about her “spine of steel,” Whitman is her own campaign platform, as she instructs voters that her corporate CEO experience has prepared her to ease unemployment and fix the state’s battered educational systems by firing 40,000 state workers and slashing regulations and taxes. Latest in a line of executives seeking to start second careers at the top of the political ladder, she may spend $100 million on the race.

STEVE POIZNER: Casting himself as a candidate of “bold ideas,” Poizner promotes a “10-10-10 program” that would cut taxes and spending each by 10 percent and build a $10 billion “rainy day” fund, a plan that recalls conservative icon Arthur Laffer’s famous curve purportedly showing how public tax cuts drive private sector growth. Keynesian economists laugh at the notion, however, and say the Poizner program is just lipstick on the pig of supply-side fiscal policies discredited during the Bush administration.

TOM CAMPBELL: A law professor with an MBA and years of state and federal government experience, Campbell is almost always the smartest guy in the room. An underfunded centrist at a time when moderates are being purged from the GOP, he campaigns as the candidate of specificity; his mastery of the minutiae of state government generates detailed white papers and avuncular assurances, though his message boils down to more efficient management of the status quo.

JERRY BROWN: It is a great paradox that the 71-year-old Brown, the original rock-star politician, now timidly casts himself “an apostle of common sense,” not exactly a slogan that trumpets “new ideas” or invokes Brown’s political insurgent history. Although not yet a formally declared candidate, he has said he learned a lot from being a two-term governor when he was young and even more arrogant, and is best qualified to contend with the fearful cross-currents and pressures of special interests in Sacramento.


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