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California’s Governor Candidates Debate: Here’s A Look At The Six Contenders

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio / Wikimedia Commons

Top, from left to right: Gubernatorial candidates Travis Allen, Gavin Newsom and Delaine Eastin. Bottom: Candidates Antonio Villaraigosa, John Chiang and John Cox.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio / Wikimedia Commons

Listen to Capital Public Radio’s new podcast, “California’s Next Governor,” for longer interviews with all six candidates. 

The six leading candidates for California governor debated on Tuesday evening in San Jose as vote-by-mail ballots arrive for the June 5 primary election.

Democrat Gavin Newsom, who has emerged in polls as the frontrunner, says his careers in both the public and private sectors shape what he’d bring to the governor’s office.

He says he has a “a willingness to take risks, a willingness to be bold, a willingness to get out front on issues, a willingness to tackle vexing problems by try to solve them, not manage them.”

As mayor of San Francisco, Newsom defied the law to marry same-sex couples. And after initially fighting a city ordinance to bring universal health care access to residents, he embraced it.

As lieutenant governor, he pushed gun control and recreational marijuana ballot measures. Now, Newsom is making the uphill battle for single-payer health care a core part of his campaign.

“I believe very passionately in this debate, and I’m gonna lean into it aggressively,” he told Capital Public Radio during a recent interview.

Behind Newsom, three other Democrats and two Republicans are jockeying for second place. That’s because the top two June primary finishers — regardless of political party — advance to the November general election.

At the California Republican Party convention this past weekend, businessman John Cox slammed the state’s Democratic leaders.

“They’ve gone way over to the left. They’ve opened up the middle for us. They have made this state virtually unaffordable for working people,” he said.

Cox is a lawyer, accountant and venture capitalist who pegs his net worth at around $200 million, and he isn’t afraid to fund his own campaigns. His previous efforts at ballot measures — and runs for Congress, Senate and even president — have all flailed.

But now, he’s backed by much of the party establishment as its best hope for a top-two primary finish. His slogan on the campaign trail is “Clean out the barn,” a nod to President Trump’s “Drain the swamp.” Cox voted for libertarian Gary Johnson in 2016, but now he’s a strong supporter of the president’s actions, if not his tweets.

The other leading Republican, Assemblyman Travis Allen, hasn’t raised a lot of money. And polls indicate that he’s struggling to catch the leading candidates. But he’s lit a fire among conservatives, tea party groups and Trump supporters who love his Trump-esque tone.

Back on the Democratic side, there’s Antonio Villaraigosa, who’s had two very different political careers. As California Assembly speaker in the late 1990s, he fought for liberal goals on issues from health care to guns. As mayor of Los Angeles during the Great Recession, he battled labor unions on education, furloughs and pensions — even though he started his career as a union organizer.

Now, the high school dropout — who credits one of his teachers for giving him a second chance — is campaigning as a pro-business progressive fighting for low-income, minority and moderate Californians.

John Chiang believes he can strike a sweet spot in California politics: a progressive who’s fiscally prudent. The soft-spoken state treasurer, who previously served two terms as controller, says he’s the candidate who can responsibly achieve liberal goals like single-payer health care while keeping California financially sound.

Chiang also calls himself the “no-drama” candidate who won’t “embarrass” the state, a not-so-subtle jab at some of his rivals.

And then, there’s Delaine Eastin, the only female candidate among the leaders and arguably the most liberal. The former state schools chief and Assembly member says she has the “brass backbone” to “not just go along and get along” at the state Capitol.

Eastin argues that the state is not moving the needle when it comes to issues such as rent control, fracking, and education.

One of these six will likely lead the biggest state in the nation — and an economy that just jumped from the world’s sixth-largest to the fifth. And this next month until the June primary, starting with Tuesday’s debate, could be pivotal:

In a state as blue as California, a Democrat-vs-Republican runoff in November might be over before it starts.

You can listen to Tuesday night's debate featuring the candidates for California governor beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Capital Public Radio

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