California Governor’s Race Heats up Ahead of Primary

With June’s impending election, we take a closer look at the frontrunners for California’s next governor.

The race for California’s next governor is in full swing, but it’s only growing more unpredictable as we inch closer to the June 5 primary. The frontrunner, still, is Lieutenant Governor and former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, but a February poll by the Public Policy Institute of California shows that former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is hot on his heels, climbing within two percentage points behind Newsom’s 23-percent figure.

However, the same poll indicates 24 percent of voters are undecided or otherwise unsure of who to vote for, so it’s safe to assume many Californians are still a little hazy with our gubernatorial candidates’ platforms and history. With nearly two dozen declared candidates from the two major parties alone, it is also overwhelming to sort through every single one. But with less than three months until California decides their “top two” candidates to send on the November ballot, there are only six candidates with any plausible chance of winning the California governorship.

Gavin Newsom (D) — Although the Lieutenant Governor is the frontrunner, he’s tried before. Newsom initially ran for governor in 2010, but dropped out after eventual winner Jerry Brown entered the race. Newsom was the first to announce his candidacy for governor in November 2015, despite the fact that the election wouldn’t be held for three more years. His platform includes budget increases for public education and the adoption of a statewide universal-healthcare bill.

Antonio Villaraigosa (D) — Mayor of Los Angeles from 2005 to 2013 and speaker of the state assembly from 1998 to 2000, Villaraigosa claims his campaign is aimed at middle-class Californians who feel left behind in the state’s “new economy.” He successfully guided L.A. through an economic downturn, revitalizing the city’s public transportation system and lowering crime during his two terms as mayor. Spending increases in public education and improvements to transportation infrastructure are also a core part of his platform.

John Chiang (D) — This is a name most voters will recognize from previous state elections, as Chiang served two terms as state controller before being elected state treasurer in 2014. Chiang spent his early life in Chicago and New York before moving to California after obtaining a law degree. As controller, he made headlines in 2011 for docking state legislators’ pay after they failed to pass a balanced budget on time. Chiang’s platform relies on his accomplishments as state treasurer and controller, focusing on ideas for economic stimulation and growth for California.

Delaine Eastin (D) — Eastin served as California’s superintendent for public instruction from 1995 to 2003, still the only woman in California history to have done so. Due to this, Eastin’s platform heavily revolves around public education reform and spending. She credits her success as superintendent under two governors from different parties as proof that she has what it takes to lead California in the Trump era. Eastin claims to represent the more progressive side of the spectrum, claiming the Democratic Party needs to “stop being short-term reactionaries.”

John Cox (R) — Born and raised in Chicago, John Cox has spent most of his professional career in Illinois — until he announced his run for California’s governorship. Cox has few endorsements from state officials or politicians, but as he is pouring millions of dollars of his own money into his campaign, he seems to be doing fine. Cox made headlines in 2015 when he proposed a ballot initiative that would have required California legislators to wear logos of their 10 biggest political donors when advocating for policies on the Senate or Assembly floor.

Travis Allen (R) — Outspoken state Assemblyman Travis Allen appears to be the favorite for California Republicans, as he is the only gubernatorial candidate who speaks agreeably on issues that are important for conservative Californians. Allen’s campaign platform shares many of the same values we see from the GOP: tax cuts, tough-on-crime policies, and charter schools. This all sounds great for conservatives, but allegations of Allen’s previous sexual misconduct may (or may not) be the nail in the coffin for his campaign. 

With 12 weeks to go until the primary, all candidates are in full campaign mode, unafraid to take shots at each other’s credibility. The final decision remains with California voters, who will choose the top two candidates to pit against each other in the November election.

Tim Casagrande is a contributor at SF Weekly.

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