As candidates and politicos across the state prepare for the race to replace California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — State Attorney General Jerry Brown filed exploratory papers Tuesday, and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman announced her candidacy last week — Students for Gavin Newsom is getting a headstart on campaigning and recruiting supporters at USC.
The student coalition for Newsom, the current mayor of San Francisco, was founded in April, 19 months before the 2010 state election. It now boasts 25 active members with more than 300 signed supporters, according to Kim Ueyama, the group’s field director.
“[The campaign] is really trying to develop the largest
grassroots, student-based coalition in the statewide election in California,” Ueyama said.
According to Thomas Hollihan, an expert in political communication and a USC professor, the early presence of a student campaign for Newsom can be attributed to his progressive policies and proposals. Students for Newsom is currently the only student group involved in the campaign for next year’s gubernatorial race, although Hollihan expects other organizations to start springing up as the election approaches.
“I think that when you come to students, the candidate that’s likely to attract the most interest early … would be Gavin Newsom,” Hollihan said. “His candidacy is likely to appeal to the more progressive students on our campus.”
Manisha Goud, a sophomore majoring in biological science and political science who was a volunteer in the Obama campaign last year, said she decided to start the campaign after seeing Newsom at a town hall in March.
Goud, who now serves as both the USC chapter director and the Los Angeles regional director for Students for Newsom, said the campaign team was already working with other chapter leaders to reach out to students in the area.
“We want to start off with a strong supporter base to show that Mayor Newsom does have support from Southern California schools, especially private schools,” Goud said.
On Saturday, the coalition will host one of the Newsom campaign’s five California phone banks. According to Goud, the students involved will use the opportunity to let Los Angeles residents know about Newsom’s candidacy and platform.
“We’re going to reach out to Gavin Newsom [supporters] and people in our community to let them know what he stands for,” she said. “We’re trying to work with other student groups like the GLBTA, environmental groups, and possibly the College Democrats in forming a coalition of support for Mayor Newsom.”
The campaign plans to draw from Newsom’s achievements as mayor — he is credited with establishing universal health care, affordable higher education and an extensive recycling program in San Francisco — in pitching him as a candidate to potential voters.
“What he’s done for San Francisco as the mayor is incredible. He completely changed the recycling program. I think if that was implemented on a larger scale, it would do a lot for California,” said Emily Gee, the deputy chapter director of the USC Students for Gavin Newsom.
According to Goud, Newsom’s strong support for GLBT rights would also be a significant advantage for the campaign at USC.
“Mayor Newsom is known for his outspoken views on gay marriage and gay rights. I think a lot of students can resonate with that on campus, especially the GLBTA crew,” Goud said. “There’s someone willing to fight for their rights.”
But Hollihan believes his steadfast support for gay rights will have its downside as well, referring to the position as “fracturing” for the populace.
“Newsom is going to get tremendous, enthusiastic support, because of his position,” he said. “And he’s going to get tremendous opposition, because he was so out in front of it when San Francisco was the first city to legalize gay marriage.”
With the recent budget cuts to the University of California, California State University and California Community Colleges, the campaign is hoping students will be attracted to Newsom’s policies, especially his proposals to improve the state of higher education in California.
“[Newsom] is committed to making sure higher education is affordable and accessible to California students,” said Nick Clemons, his campaign manager. “He is 100 percent against the fee increases that students in those two systems are being hit with right now.”
With Students for Newsom chapters at more than 40 UC, CSU and private universities in California, the candidate has already registered more than 5,000 student supporters, according to Clemons.
“I hope students will realize we’ve got a great opportunity,” said Eric Lee, a UC Davis student and the college director for Students for Gavin Newsom. “The state of California has really got some issues to tackle.”
According to Hollihan though, it is the magnitude of the problems the next governor will face that makes the race interesting.
“This state has proven to be almost ungovernable and the crises are so dramatic at the moment. The complexity of California is such that there are big structural problems that the next governor is going to have to deal with.” Hollihan said. “One has to wonder why people really want to take on a job like that.”