As expected, Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom led the way among 27 candidates vying for the governor’s office to advance to November’s general election, when he will be challenged by Republican businessman John Cox, who is backed by President Donald Trump.
Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, once considered a strong contender to reach the November runoff with Newsom, wound up laboring at the polls and despite expressing early optimism that the vote tally would eventually go his way, he conceded the race at 11 p.m. Tuesday.
“I’m a newlywed, and I’ve been in the campaign my entire new marriage,” Villaraigosa told his supporters. “So now we get the opportunity to actually have a honeymoon.”
Earlier in the night, Villaraigosa questioned whether a printing error in Los Angeles County that left more than 118,000 people off the voter rosters at polling places might impact his chances. He called for the polls to remain open until Friday to ensure that everyone had a chance to vote. But as vote-tallying continued Tuesday night, it became clear that his fortunes were unlikely to change.
Meanwhile, Newsom told his supporters he was “humbled” by the support he received up and down the state, and vowed to continue his push on issues such as “guaranteed health care for all,” affordable housing and an “all-hands approach to once and for all end child poverty in California.”
He insisted his remarks did not constitute a victory speech, since a November general election still lies ahead. But he quickly began to distinguish himself from Cox, painting the November race as a choice between “a governor who’s gonna stand up to Donald Trump and a foot-soldier in his war on California.”
“The stakes have never been higher,” Newsom said, touting the state as a place were “we don’t criminalize diversity, we celebrate diversity. A state where we don’t obstruct justice, we demand justice for everybody.”
Cox rallied his supporters in San Diego County, embracing his support from Trump.
“We put a businessman in the White House. Let’s put a businessman in the governor’s mansion,” Cox said. “This is only the first step to turning around this state and taking back California for all Californians.”
Cox noted Newsom’s campaign strategy that appeared aimed at advancing a Republican to the November ballot in hopes of eliminating competition between Democrats and assuring him of victory.
“Be careful, Mr. Newsom. Be careful what you wish for,” Cox said.
“Let’s send him the very first message, and that is it wasn’t Donald Trump who made California the highest-tax state in the country, it was Gavin Newsom and the Democrats,” he said.
A Republican hasn’t won a statewide election in California since 2006.
Newsom rose to prominence in 2004 when as mayor he directed the San Francisco city-county clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, which was in violation of state law at the time. Newsom has remained in the state and national spotlight ever since, and after a brief run for governor in the 2010 election he dropped out in favor of a bid for lieutenant governor when it was clear that Jerry Brown was pulling away with the race. He easily won a second term and made an early declaration in 2015 that he intended to run for governor.
Newsom has proposed a universal healthcare program for California as one of his top priorities and says he supports SB 562, a bill that aims to create a single-payer system. He also promised to oppose Trump’s immigration policies, and has called for universal preschool, two years of free community college, an end to the cash bail system and gun control. He also said he wants set a goal of building 3.5 million new homes by 2025 through an expansion of the low-income housing tax credit program and other initiatives.
Cox is a San Diego-area businessman who has for years pushed the idea of massively expanding the state Legislature to thousands of representatives, which he says would cut down on big money in political campaigns. Cox has failed on several occasions to get his proposal on a state ballot, but the efforts put him on the political map, and he is running on a platform to end Brown’s $52 billion gas tax increase and end the “sanctuary” laws of the state aimed at protecting some immigrants living in the country illegally from deportation.
After distancing himself from Trump early on, he has welcomed the president’s recent endorsement and in many ways is running a campaign similar to Trump’s by pitching himself as a businessman — not a politician — and taking a hard line on immigration, including supporting construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Villaraigosa served as mayor of Los Angeles from 2005 through 2013 after stints as Speaker of the Assembly and on the Los Angeles City Council. His campaign for governor was backed heavily by billionaire charter school supporters, and he is a longtime proponent of the growth of charters in California.
Voters on Tuesday also weighed in on other statewide offices.
In the race to succeed Newsom as lieutenant governor, Democratic businesswoman Eleni Kounalakis was leading the 11-candidate field and will advance to the November general election against Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-Azusa, who finished just ahead of Republican businessman Cole Harris.
Democrat Alex Padilla, meanwhile, will advance to November as he tries to maintain his job as secretary of state. He will face off with Republican Mark Meuser.
State Controller Betty Yee, a Democrat, will take her reelection bid to November, when she will face Republican Konstantinos Roditis. Attorney General Xavier Becerra fended off a challenge from fellow Democrat and state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones in his reelection bid. Becerra will square off with Republican Steven Bailey in November.
Democrat Fiona Ma will vie for the state treasurer job in November, facing Republican Greg Conlon.
Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, will compete in the November race for state insurance commissioner, facing Steve Poizner, who held the job from 2007-2011. Poizner switched his registration from Republican to No Party Preference earlier this year.