SAN FRANCISCO – In California, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom is seeking a second four-year term, less than a year after he decisively defeated an effort to recall him from office.
Last September, 62% of California voters voted “No” on the recall, essentially identical to the 62% who voted for Newsom over Republican challenger John Cox in the 2018 gubernatorial election.
Like elected officials at all levels in the state, Newsom is facing headwinds from the pandemic, gas prices and inflation, in addition to voter concerns about quality of life issues including homelessness and public safety. But Newsom’s campaign ads remained mostly positive, like one touting his “Courage Through Crisis” where he focused on California’s resilience, with a promise to reflect the state’s values, like diversity protecting the environment and following science.
Under California’s “top two” primary, the top two finishers in Tuesday’s election will face off in November, no matter their political party. Pre-election polls showed Newsom easily overcoming any lingering unhappiness with his handling of the pandemic and other problems, notably the Employment Development Department’s epic mishandling of the federally-funded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, where EDD paid some $20 billion in fraudulent unemployment claims and gummed up payments to those in need while investigations took place.
His main challengers are Republican state Sen. Brian Dahle, who represents a sprawling state senate district that includes all, or part, of 11 mostly rural counties. He won the endorsement of the state Republican Party and is in sync with many of its positions — including opposition to abortion, saying climate change is not the primary cause of California’s wildfires and blaming voter-approved ballot measures for the recent uptick in property crime. His positions and campaign slogan, “Restoring California,” may appeal to the 24% of voters registered as Republican, but he is unlikely to approach the percentage needed to win in November.
Also running is activist Michael Shellenberger, a former Democrat who has been extremely critical of what he sees as liberal policy solutions on issues like homelessness and mental illness that don’t work.
As the incumbent in a solidly Democratic state, Newsom has also benefited from an overwhelming financial advantage over his rivals. Through May, the Newsom for Governor campaign had $23 million cash on hand, most of it raised last year when Newsom faced a recall. By comparison, Sen. Dahle had just $392,485 in the bank at the end of May, while Shellenberger had a total of $320,114.