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What To Watch For In The California Governor’s Race

Jessica Paterson / Flickr

Jessica Paterson / Flickr

California voters will narrow the race to replace termed-out Gov. Jerry Brown from 27 candidates to two finalists on Tuesday — with the biggest question not who finishes first, but who comes in second.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is widely expected to win one of the two tickets to the general election. He’s led in every public poll and has raised by far the most money of any candidate.

But it’s far from clear who he’ll face in November. Under California’s “jungle” primary system, the top two finishers — regardless of political party — will face off in November.

There are two leading Republicans — businessman John Cox and Assemblyman Travis Allen — and three other prominent Democrats: former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Treasurer John Chiang and former state schools chief Delaine Eastin.

If the second spot goes to a Republican, Newsom will begin the general election as the overwhelming favorite to lead the world’s fifth-largest economy starting next year. If it’s a Democrat, Newsom could face a much tougher battle this fall.

Polls suggest Cox is best positioned to finish second, followed by Villaraigosa.

Cox is trumpeting his endorsement from President Trump in hopes that GOP voters will coalesce behind him and ensure Republicans a spot at the top of the ticket in November — even though Cox voted for libertarian Gary Johnson in 2016.

Allen, meanwhile, has a strong following among grassroots conservatives. He’s reminding Republicans that he is the only gubernatorial candidate who voted for Trump.

On the Democratic side, Villaraigosa is pinning his hopes on California’s surging Latino population, which has historically been less likely to vote in midterm and primary elections. He’s been backed by more than $20 million in outside spending by a group run by charter schools and funded by a handful of billionaires, including Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Chiang has thrown the biggest punches at both Newsom and Villaraigosa — at debates, in interviews and in TV ads. But polls suggest his campaign message of a fiscally prudent progressive has struggled to find traction, despite raising the second most money behind Newsom.

And Eastin has run an unabashedly progressive campaign aimed at winning votes from supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. She’s the only prominent female candidate in the race.

Newsom, however, positioned himself early in the race to win votes from progressive Democrats by advocating for single-payer health care and other liberal goals. That, and his perceived inevitability thanks to the polls and fundraising, allowed him to win endorsements from influential interest groups from labor unions to doctors.

Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio 

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