In their only scheduled debate before the November 6 election, California gubernatorial candidates John Cox and Gavin Newsom clashed on fiscal issues like housing affordability and last year’s gas tax increase to fund transportation projects, and also social issues such as gun control and same-sex marriage.
Newsom repeatedly sought to tie Cox to President Trump, suggesting he’s out of step with most Californians. Cox often tried to steer the debate’s focus back to his core issues of affordability and government efficiency.
In a state where campaigns must overwhelmingly rely on TV to reach voters, the candidates’ lone one-on-one meeting was well outside of prime time — and radio-only. Here's a few of the key exchanges:
Addressing the state's housing crisis
This section got to the heart of the two candidates’ styles and campaign strategies. Newsom called for restarting Redevelopment Agencies, which Gov. Jerry Brown eliminated during the Great Recession. He also advocated for a carrot-and-stick approach with money for local governments that choose to build significant new housing.
Cox wants to replace the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which is often used to hold up housing development projects at the city and county levels. Cox also argued that specific proposals don’t matter if special interest groups continue to sway the political process.
On how John Cox has "evolved" on gay marriage, other issues
This was the one exchange that got a bit personal. It focused on some of Cox’s previous comments earlier in his political career, including his brief stint as a presidential candidate, that were sharply critical of same-sex marriage. Cox said his views have changed, and he pointed to prominent Democrats whose positions changed as well, such as former President Barack Obama. Newsom criticized Cox as having values not in step with California.
This exchange epitomized the debate as a whole in many ways. Cox sought to shift the conversation away from social issues like gun control to his bread-and-butter focus of affordability and government efficiency. Newsom kept returning to Cox’s positions as being out-of-step with the majority of voters in a state as blue as California.
Prop 6 and repealing the gas tax
Polls suggest that a Californian’s vote on Proposition 6 may well depend on how the question is asked: Is the vote to repeal a gas tax increase? Or is the vote to rescind billions of dollars a year from transportation projects? Cox and Newsom each sought to frame the question their way.
Sanctuary city and state policies
Newsom took every advantage of this opportunity to paint Cox as being in lock-step with President Trump. Cox has at times distanced himself from Trump on issues like family separations, but did not do so quite as much during the debate. He did, however, say that he wants papers to be checked at the border, not in the streets.