By David Cantor | The 74
In February 2015, barely three months after he was elected to a second term as California’s lieutenant governor, Gavin Newsom announced he would run for governor in 2018. The one-time mayor of San Francisco, where his dash and early support of gay marriage made him a high-profile hero on the left, raised millions for his campaign long before another candidate entered the race.
He has never trailed, and will likely remain the front-runner heading into next month’s “jungle” primary, which will send the two top vote-getters, regardless of party, into November’s general election. Much of the race’s drama is unfolding in a close contest for the second spot and the right to challenge Newsom for leadership of an economy larger than all but four countries and a heavily Democratic-voting population.
Republican John Cox, a southern California businessman who has run for office several times unsuccessfully, appeared to move a few points ahead of former Los Angeles mayor and past state Assembly speaker Antonio Villaraigosa in April, though polling results were uneven.
The state’s major newspapers split their recommendations between the top two Democrats. On May 9, the San Francisco Chronicle endorsed Newsom and a day later, the Los Angeles Times urged voters to support Villaraigosa in the June 5 primary. The Mercury News and The Sacramento Bee also backed Newsom while The San Diego Union-Tribune favored Villaraigosa.
Under Gov. Jerry Brown, who twice served two terms as governor and at age 80 is reaching the end of his term limit, California became a bulwark against Trump administration policies on health care, climate change, and, particularly, immigration. In March, the Department of Justice sued the state for protecting undocumented immigrants from deportation. The president is viewed less favorably in California — his approval rating is 31 percent, and just 16 percent among voters under 30 — than nearly anywhere else and his polarizing presence has imbued the governor’s race.
“This is not just California but everywhere: Trump just dominates everything,” said Larry Grisolano, a consultant who is working with a Super PAC supporting Newsom. “How candidates project and juxtapose next to Trump is a necessity, and especially among Democrats, because that’s who’s most energized at the moment.”