"He certainly made a prudent choice," said longtime Democratic political strategist Darry Sragow. "The city is facing a lot of problems. . . . Most residents of the city want a mayor who is going to be getting up every morning, and going to City Hall and focusing on the problems facing the city. I think he's taken a deep breath, he's stepped back. If he turns out to be one of our great mayors, then I'm sure there will be plenty of good opportunities."
Villaraigosa's second term ends in 2012, which could put him in prime position to run for the U.S. Senate if Democrat Dianne Feinstein, 76, decides to retire when her third term ends that year, said Dan Schnur, a former Republican political strategist who is now director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, June 24, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Antonio Villaraigosa: An article in Section A on Tuesday about Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's decision not to run for California governor said his second term ends in 2012. It ends in 2013.
Villaraigosa's absence from the governor's race should benefit both Brown and Newsom, but Brown more, Schnur said. Among Democratic voters in Los Angeles who took part in the Times Poll, Brown was the most popular candidate among older voters and whites and, after Villaraigosa, the second most popular among Latinos and African Americans.
"Both Brown and Newsom can make a demographic claim to Villaraigosa's support -- Brown with Latino voters and Newsom with younger voters. But it looks like Brown is in a better position to benefit organizationally. Unions and Latinos are much better organized politically" than 18-to-25-year-olds are, Schnur said.
Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at Cal State Sacramento, agreed that Newsom probably would be the more appealing candidate among younger voters who favor Villaraigosa, but said it was unclear who would benefit the most from Villaraigosa's departure.
O'Connor said Villaraigosa's "normal constituency will be split," because some of Villaraigosa's supporters in labor could be drawn to Brown's civil rights record.
The latest statewide Field Poll in March found that without Feinstein in the 2010 governor's race, Brown was the top Democratic contender with 26%, followed by Villaraigosa with 22% and Newsom with 16%.
A number of political analysts believe that Villaraigosa's decision not to run for governor could motivate others to jump into the race -- including U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) -- especially because the major contenders among both Democrats and Republicans are limited to white candidates from Northern California.
Accolades for Villaraigosa from the other candidates and their supporters started drifting in shortly after CNN aired his announcement.
Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, who is running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination along with former EBay Chief Executive Meg Whitman and Tom Campbell of Orange County, said Villaraigosa is "someone I know, I respect and I like" despite their political differences.
In a statement, Newsom said: "I look forward to continuing to work with him, sharing our experiences as mayors, and collaborating on innovative solutions that will take California in a new direction."
Winning the California governor's race has proven to be an elusive quest for any big-city mayor in recent history.
Several Los Angeles mayors including Tom Bradley, Richard Riordan and Sam Yorty all tried and lost, as did San Francisco's Joseph Alioto.