It could be said that Gavin Newsom, John Cox, President Donald Trump and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy all got the California governor’s race they fought so hard to get: It'll be Newsom vs. Cox in the November general election for the chance to lead the world's fifth-largest economy.
Instead of facing a more moderate Democrat in what might have been a tight race, Newsom now gets to run a general election campaign where he can tie his Republican opponent to President Trump.
“Our values, as you know, are under assault,” Newsom told a crowd of supporters at a San Francisco night club on Mission Street when he took the stage shortly after 10 p.m.
“We’re engaged in an epic battle,” he added, “and it looks like voters will have a real choice this November between a governor who’s gonna stand up to Donald Trump and a foot soldier in his war on California.”
Newsom did not mention Cox by name. That was a sharp contrast to his campaign ads, which sought to build Cox up among Republicans by portraying him as in league with the president and the National Rifle Association.
Cox, meanwhile, didn’t hesitate to go after Newsom during his Election Night speech at a hotel in San Diego’s Gaslamp district.
“We can continue the status quo, which is what Gavin Newsom represents – with high taxes, homeless on the streets, bad roads, mismanaged schools, mismanaged water supplies, mismanaged forests,” Cox said.
“Or we can go to a businessman who’s had a 40-year career of delivering results.”
Trump and McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) endorsed Cox in the runup to Primary Day. The two leaders sought to avert a Democrat-vs.-Democrat general election in the governor's race, fearing that the lack of a Republican at the top of the ticket this fall might cause GOP voter turnout to plummet. That might have increased the party's risk of losing several competitive House races.
The big-name endorsements helped Cox distance himself from his Republican rival, Orange County Asm. Travis Allen — even though Allen voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential race and Cox did not.
Thanks in large part to several Trump tweets, Cox easily outpaced the other prominent Democrats: Treasurer John Chiang, former state schools chief Delaine Eastin, and the most closely-watched challenger: former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who conceded late Tuesday night and endorsed Newsom.
“Gavin, thank you for caring enough about this state to put your hat in the ring, to run for governor of this state,” Villaraigosa said at his campaign party at an event space in downtown Los Angeles. “We all acknowledge that you’re the victor tonight and we thank you.”
It was a particularly disappointing showing for Villaraigosa.
He was counting on his home turf of Los Angeles County to propel him into second but ended up barely ahead of Travis Allen for third — despite a $20 million boost from an outside group run by charter schools and funded by a handful of rich individuals, including Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
But it wasn’t enough for Villaraigosa to catch Newsom and Cox, who both appear to be salivating to face each other this fall.