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Gavin Newsom scores some hits, and some misses, in Southern California

March 18, 2009|Michael Finnegan
  • San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom touts his battle against plastic bags and his plans for expanding healthcare.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom touts his battle against plastic bags… (Mandel Ngan / AFP/Getty…)

Gavin Newsom may be running for governor of California, but "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest had something else in mind during his Tuesday morning radio chat with the San Francisco mayor: "What is that product that you put in your slick, shiny hair?"

"L'Oreal," Newsom responded. "And it's the Clean Gel. It's the Total Control Clean Gel, because they've got seven or eight products, and the other ones don't work."

"I'm talking to a metrosexual," Seacrest marveled.

So began the opening day of Newsom's weeklong effort to introduce himself to Southern Californians who know little about him, apart from his attempt to legalize same-sex marriage.

Yes, he touted his record on healthcare, schools and the environment, and his plans for the state were he to be elected governor in November 2010.

But his chat with Seacrest on KIIS-FM (102.7) foreshadowed likely diversions ahead for Newsom as he tries to duplicate President Obama's success in building support among younger voters by taking advantage of a host of technologies.

On the Internet, he is off to an earlier start than others looking ahead to the Democratic primary. On the social networking site Facebook, Newsom has amassed about 33,000 supporters, nearly 15 times as many as his chief rival, state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown. Newsom's advisors describe his growing presence on Facebook, MySpace and other websites as a quiet force gathering behind his candidacy.

Newsom's Web presence has helped him draw crowds of hundreds to his "town hall" meetings around the state, including one in the Santa Monica High School gym on Tuesday evening. He plans to campaign in San Diego, Santa Barbara and Palm Springs over the next few days.

His initial success has been mixed. Visitors to Newsom's website who click on his "Flickr" link are told: "This member is no longer active on Flickr." And on Digg, where Newsom is identified as "41-year-old male from San Francisco," another letdown awaits: "Gavin Newsom hasn't received any shouts yet."

Twitter, the site known for bite-size messages, lists more than 79,000 "followers" of Newsom. So on Seacrest's show, it came as little surprise that Newsom described himself as a Twitter "fanatic."

"I dare you to Twitter that you just told me you use L'Oreal," Seacrest said.

"No, I can't do that," said Newsom, whose 2006 venture outdoors with no gel in his hair led the San Francisco Chronicle to run a column headlined, "Where were you the day Gavin changed his 'do?".

"Is this live, Ryan?" Newsom asked. "I was going to see if we can edit that out."

Politicians often resort to stock lines, he joked, "because you can't make these mistakes of talking about hair products."

"My biggest problem on Twitter," Newsom went on, "is I can't spell very well. So people are scrutinizing every one of my tweets. So it's not just YouTube and videos of you doing everything, but it's a reality TV show, politics today."

On Tuesday, Newsom stuck with the safety of friendly audiences. Seacrest gushed over the Napa Valley wineries partly owned by the mayor. Later, a klatch of liberal bloggers tossed softball questions at him in a Sunset Strip hotel penthouse overlooking Los Angeles.

In Santa Monica, several hundred people gathered around Newsom on folding chairs for a candidate-in-the-round forum. He poked fun at unnamed "politicians" for promising more than they deliver, but was short on specifics on where he would find money to cover his ambitious agenda for schools and healthcare.

He was roundly applauded for saying he had "gone after plastic bags" in San Francisco. "Anyone drinking out of water bottles tonight, I'm coming after you," he said.

Turning to food safety, Newsom called himself "that crazy mayor who planted a vegetable garden in front of City Hall."

Newsom also conceded that his advocacy of same-sex marriage is unpopular among many Californians. But with the Santa Monica crowd, he scored points by invoking the Brown vs. Board of Education desegregation case to press his case. "Separate," he said, "is not equal."

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michael.finnegan@latimes.com

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