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Clever Calif. Dem Garry South says one specific Republican would make 'a great governor'

October 29, 2009 |  5:28 pm

Garry South, the ever-voluble, ever-quotable political strategist, has made a name for himself with his provocative, often outrageous statements on behalf of Democratic candidates and causes.

Garry South

More than a few of his candidates have cringed -- even if they were privately pleased -- as South scorched the Republican opposition. (Most of his inflammatory, over-the-top remarks are, in truth, about as random and spontaneous as a precision-guided missile.)

Nonetheless, it was something of a surprise at a California Chamber of Commerce forum today in Napa, Calif., when South had this to say about GOP gubernatorial hopeful Tom Campbell:

"He's a great guy. He would make a great governor. You can quote me on that."

OK.

True, South probably said those nice things because he's convinced that Campbell, the pauper in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial race against big-spending Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner to succeed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, has no chance of winning.

That, of course, remains to be seen.

Some have drawn a comparison between Campbell's circumstances and another vastly outspent dark horse candidate who improbably managed to beat a pair of free-spending millionaires: Gray Davis in 1998.

His campaign, not incidentally, was run by none other than -- oh, look! -- Garry South.

The difference, South pointed out, was Davis' support within the Democratic base, something the heretical Tom Campbell -- he of the 32-cent-a-gallon gas tax hike proposal -- seems to lack among the state's tax-hating Republican base.

What makes South's comment especially noteworthy, however, is his current role, managing the gubernatorial primary campaign of Democratic San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

If Campbell is such a great fellow with all that promise, why isn't South supporting his bid for governor?

"I'm a Democrat," South replied. "You need to ask?"

Jamie Fisfis, a Campbell strategist who joined South on the panel along with consultants for Poizner, Whitman and Democratic Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, had this to say afterward: "Sounds like Garry's trying to destroy another Republican candidate he doesn't want to face in the general election."

South, it might be recalled, helped engineer the defeat of former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan in the Republican primary of the 2002 governor's race, helping ease the way for Davis' reelection. [Updated 9:40 a.m. Oct. 30: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said Riordan ran in the 2006 primary.]

-- Mark Z. Barabak

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Photo: South's office.

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