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California's gubernatorial wannabes work inaugural events

WASHINGTON -- California's own Democratic team of rivals has been quietly advancing their gubernatorial ambitions amid the inaugural celebrations.

Lt. Gov. John Garamendi said Wednesday that he's hired his new national fundraiser and lined up fresh support from serious contributors. Attorney General Jerry Brown, while not yet a declared candidate, has been getting around town. Multiple big-city mayors have been out and about, in parties where politics remains the main intoxicant.

"For me, it was a chance to work (members of) the crowd, all 12,000 of them," Garamendi said Wednesday morning when asked about the Western States Inaugural Ball he attended the night before.

Garamendi is again a declared candidate for the job he first sought in 1982. Electoral viability and statewide experience are big parts of his sales pitch -- "I can win this thing," he said Wednesday -- and money, in turn, plays a big role in that.

The former Calaveras County state senator said he raised about $1.2 million last year and said he retains about $800,000 in available cash. This would mark a strong close to the fundraising year. From January through September 2008, California Secretary of State records show, Garamendi had raised about $560,000 and had $335,000 on hand.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who has formed an exploratory committee, reported raising $1.1 million and had $719,000 available at year's end. Neither Brown nor Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has formed gubernatorial or exploratory committees.

Yet another potential candidate, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, is playing her cards even closer to the chest. Her relative willingness to endure a contested primary and then a general election for the sake of a Sacramento job incites guesswork among California political professional from both parties.

Garamendi said he expects a Democratic primary campaign will cost between $15 million and $20 million. Even with California's deep pockets, this entails a national fundraising effort, for which Garamendi while in Washington finalized the hiring of what he called his "national finance team."

He declined to identify the new fundraising professionals, for the time being, but indicated his intention to conduct multiple out-of-state fundraising events in March. These could take him to the likes of Texas, Florida and the East Coast. He said 74 individuals so far have committed to raising $100,000 each, which would take him roughly halfway toward the low end of his primary fundraising target.

"We're ramping it up," Garamendi said, calling the national fundraising "absolutely fundamental if you're going to run in California."

The 2010 election cycle is still young, and many political professionals remain sparing in their commitments. None of the five national unions Garamendi met with in Washington this week pledged their support, nor did he expect them to this early. Similarly, most of the California House members who Garamendi joined for a Capitol Hill lunch on Wednesday are uncommitted.

Nonetheless, the inaugural festivities have provided all the potential candidates with myriad networking opportunities. On Tuesday afternoon, for instance, Garamendi and his wife, Patti, were both working the room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building at a post-inaugural California reception hosted by Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Brown was no social slouch himself, attending a Saturday evening reception at the Library of Congress hosted by Feinstein and then, the next day, a California inaugural fashion show also attended by Newsom and Villaraigosa. There, in a teasing hint at Brown's potential gubernatorial interests, Feinstein introduced him as "attorney general, and who knows?"

On Friday, Brown further introduced himself around at a Georgetown reception.