Nolo Contendre = Solo Contender?

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Consider it the first big news in the 2010 race for governor of California, and it came 221 days before the June primary: the nomination of the state's dominant political party appears to be safely in the hands of a guy who hasn't even officially said he wants it.

If you love politics, it's a great story.

Gavin Newsom's announcement that he is abandoning his race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination came, like any political bombshell, on a Friday afternoon.

"With a young family and responsibilities at [SF] city hall," said hizzoner's emailed statement at 3:02 p.m., "I have found it impossible to commit the time required to complete this effort the way it needs to — and should be — done." Newsom, who became a first time dad a little more than a month ago, went on to thank his supporters and to pledge to keep fighting the good fight.

Was it surprising? Yes and no. No, in that the campaign had struggled to find the needed cash for such a huge race. Campaign finance reports through June 30 show the Newsom gubernatorial effort had raised $1.7 million but already spent almost $1.6 million; records since then, though incomplete, continued to paint an uphill climb in the battle for bucks. And yes, Newsom may be feeling the tug of family and his still demanding job running the city by the Bay.

Worth noting is what now seems to be a telling moment: Newsom's campaign guru, Garry South, was quoted yesterday by the Los Angeles Times as offering a seemingly full-throated endorsement for Republican candidate Tom Campbell. Did South know his horse was pulling out of the race?

Still, the news did come as a surprise given that the charismatic pol seemed to have thrown himself full tilt into the race; he now has more than 1.2 million followers on Twitter, and has used social networking aggressively in his courting of younger voters. And let's face it, those of us in the political press relished the generational guv storyline of Newsom battling the iconic Jerry Brown, the two-term governor/presidential candidate/Oakland mayor/attorney general.

For his part, Brown wasted no time in releasing his own statement, which said simply: "Mayor Newsom is a talented public official and I believe he has a bright future. I am sure this was not an easy decision."

Of course, Brown isn't technically a candidate for his old job. In the longest running cat-and-mouse game in recent political memory, the 71-year-old with a name ID maybe only second to Arnold Schwarzenegger (maybe higher!) refuses to yet call himself a candidate... going only so far as to create an "exploratory" campaign.

Newsom's decision leaves Jerry Brown in the driver's seat -- not just for the Democratic nomination but, according to the polling, for the whole enchilada. And, in a case of truly awkward timing, the Newsom story broke on the single worst day of the Brown-as-attorney-general era, as the AG's office scrambled to explain why a top aide was recording conversations with journalists without consent -- something even us journos know is illegal in California.

And now, a brief departure into the squishy gossip of this story... namely, that Newsom may be interested in running for lieutenant governor next year. The idea has been knocked down a thousand times by those close to the San Fran mayor, and by Newsom himself. "Spare the speculation," tweeted Newsom adviser Jason Kinney tonight. Fair enough, but consider this: if Brown should run and win, he would be 73 just three months after taking office. Would he really run for a second term at 77? Or might he step aside in 2014, leaving the job to... well... a seasoned and high-profile lieutenant governor?

And for that matter, what would a John Garamendi victory next Tuesday in his race for Congress do to this game? Governor Schwarzenegger would get to appoint an interim 'Lite Guv,' but Dems in the Legislature would have to give their blessing. Garamendi's chances look good; would the GOP guv appoint a placeholder? Would he appoint a Dem? If so, would that Dem want the job in next year's election? Would all of that finally silence the Newsom for LG chatter?

That's just a bit of the parlor game, mind you. But for political junkies, this story isn't going anyway anytime soon.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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