While Gavin Newsom – the only declared candidate for governor in 2018 – soaked up applause from young Democrats and a shout-out from Sugar Ray at a party in Anaheim late Friday night, Steve Westly met privately with activists and supporters in a hotel across town, laying groundwork for his likely campaign.
Westly, in Anaheim for the California Democratic Party’s annual convention, has been out of the spotlight for nearly 10 years, since running unsuccessfully for governor in 2006.
But his defeat that year came in the Democratic primary, before the advent of a system in which the top two vote-getters advance to a runoff regardless of party affiliation.
Now Westly, a former state controller and wealthy Silicon Valley investor, envisions the possibility that two Democrats advance from the primary election in 2018, with the more moderate candidate – him – performing best among California’s growing ranks of independent voters in a runoff.
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“The open primary,” Westly said in an interview, “is hugely favorable to a moderate, pro-business Democrat who lives in the suburbs.”
The challenge for Westly is significant. If too many Democrats run and split the vote – or if the Republican Party fields a credible candidate – only one Democrat will likely advance.
In addition to Newsom and Westly, potential Democratic candidates include former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer and Secretary of State Alex Padilla.
Westly, a former eBay executive who lives in the Bay Area suburb of Atherton, raised more than $46 million in his last campaign, some $35 million of it his own money. He predicted only “two or three” Democrats will raise enough to compete seriously in 2018.
Westly said Steyer “certainly could” raise enough money. He shrugged when asked about Newsom, the lieutenant governor and former San Francisco mayor.
Westly said that if he advanced to a runoff against “a bigger city, more liberal Democrat,” it “may play to my advantage.”
Newsom has been raising money aggressively since announcing his candidacy, reporting nearly $1.3 million since entering the race earlier this year. That is on top of about $3 million left in his re-election account at the end of 2014.
At the party at the House of Blues, where the band Sugar Ray performed, guests waved glow sticks with “Newsom” printed on them.
Westly said he will decide in the next few months if he will run. If he elects not to, it would come as a surprise. In the food court, an aide handed over his business card. Printed on it by hand: “Westly 2018.”