With San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom running for lieutenant governor, the race is getting way more attention than it probably deserves. It’s also opened the way for a hazy bit of Democratic historical revisionism.

In a story that’s spread all over the liberal blogosphere, Paul Hogarth of Beyond Chron asks whether Newsom could become “the Angelides of 2010.”

Hogarth argues that state Democratic Treasurer Phil Angelides lost to Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger four years ago because a grueling primary with Steve Westly and his campaign consultant Garry South “left (Angelides) so bloodied that he went on to lose the general election by a landslide.”

Without the nasty attacks South orchestrated against Angelides, California might now have a Democratic governor, Hogarth suggested.

South is now the political guru for Los Angeles Councilwoman Janice Hahn, a Democrat who also wants to be LG. Hogarth fears that a similar game of South-inspired hardball politics could open the way for a Republican to become lieutenant governor.

South has always run a take-no-prisoners type of campaign and negative is what the “King of Mean” does best. And he did spend most of the summer after the 2006 Democratic primary telling anyone who would listen that Angelides had no chance against Schwarzenegger. That didn’t endear him to many Democratic leaders, especially when he turned out to be right.

But suggesting Angelides was ever close to taking out Schwarzenegger sounds more like wishful thinking by Democrats than non-partisan political analysis.

There’s no doubt Schwarzenegger was in deep political trouble back in October 2005. A Field Poll then found only 36 percent of likely voters inclined to re-elect him. Head-to-head match-ups showed him running six percentage points behind both Angelides and Westly.

To show just how terrible a time that was for Schwarzenegger, the same Field Poll had him losing to actor/director Rob Reiner by three points and locked in a statistical tie with actor Warren Beatty.

With the governor so vulnerable, Democrats argue, either Westly or Angelides should have been able to trample Schwarzenegger in November.

But polls are snapshots in time, not predictions of the future and Schwarzenegger’s political problems in 2005 went way beyond Angelides and Westly.

That October poll was completed just a week before the special election Schwarzenegger had called to push a bunch of his controversial reform ideas, including measures making it easier to fire teachers, making it harder for unions to collect money for partisan – read Democratic — political efforts and enacting state spending limits that could cut money for schools and other public services.

By the time the poll was taken, unions, teacher groups and other Friends of Democrats had dumped more than $75 million into an all-out campaign to defeat the ballot measures and, not incidentally, trash Schwarzenegger for calling the special election in the first place.

It worked. Not only did every part of Schwarzenegger’s reform plan lose badly, but the governor also saw his popularity plummet.

As soon as the election ended, though, a funny thing happened. Schwarzenegger apologized for calling the special election and said he had been too hasty and unwilling to listen to people who told him it was a bad idea.

“If I would do another Terminator movie,” he joked, “I would have the Terminator travel back in time and tell Arnold not to have a special election.”

And the voters not only forgave him, but quickly began to forget that that 2005 election had ever happened. By April 2006, two months before the Democratic primary, new polls showed Schwarzenegger tied with Angelides and leading Westly. By July, the governor was up by eight percentage points and on his way to a crushing 55 percent to 39 percent victory in November.

It might make the Democrats who backed Angelides feel better if they thought it was only the accident of that contested primary that killed his chance to be governor, but good luck getting anyone who followed the campaign closely to go along with that.

The reality is that Angelides never had a chance. The larger-than-life persona Schwarzenegger cultivated in his years as a Hollywood action hero and in his first term in office literally overwhelmed Angelides, a Sacramento real estate developer and Democratic Party official turned number-crunching state treasurer.

Angelides fought hard and Democrats gave him solid backing. But Schwarzenegger was a better campaigner and, for better or worse, connected with the voters in a way Angelides could never manage.

If elections were run like softball games, that 2006 contest would have been called early because of the mercy rule.

As for the Garry South connection, it gives consultants way more credit than they deserve to suggest that rank-and-file California voters pay close attention to the post-election musings of the guy who was on the wrong side of the vote.

Now there are any number of reasons why Republican state Sen. Abel Maldonado (or GOP state Sen. San Aanestad, for that matter) could beat Newsom in the lieutenant governor’s race. But if they do, it won’t be because Janice Hahn ran a tough, aggressive campaign or because Garry South was too mean to him.

That’s just politics. And Newsom and every other politician know that’s how the game is played.

John Wildermuth is a longtime writer on California politics.