California Primary: Gavin Newsom, John Cox Lead in Race for Governor

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Republican businessman John Cox were the projected top two vote getters in the primary race for California governor ion Tuesday and will face off in the November general election.

The results were a blow Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat and former mayor of Los Angeles, who trailed Cox by a wide margin, although his campaign hoped that the gap would narrow as more votes are counted.

Cox, a former Illinois resident who ran in multiple elections there, was relatively unknown in the state before President Trump sent out several tweets in support of him in recent weeks.

“One party rule in Sacramento is bad enough, but one party elections is just un-American,” Cox told supporters, referring to the possibility, which seemed very real just a few months ago, that Republicans would get shut out of the gubernatorial race in the November election.

Villaraigosa also spoke to supporters, but said that he would continue to watch the returns. He expressed concern over a snafu after more than 118,000 names were mistakenly left off registration lists in Los Angeles County, and his campaign had requested that they be kept open until Friday, according to KPCC.

The attention of Democrats nationwide wasn’t fixated on the governor’s race but a slew of House races, as the party’s hopes of winning back the majority hinge on flipping Republican seats in the state. The GOP holds seats in seven districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016; Democrats need to win 23 seats nationwide this fall to win the House majority.

California’s open primary system threatens to lock Democrats out of some contests in November. The top two vote-getters will advance to the general election, regardless of party. Because so many Democrats are vying in each district, they face the possibility of splitting the vote and not making it on the fall ballot.

A key battleground is Orange County, the once hard-right conservative bastion that has been leaning farther to the left in recent cycles. Clinton won the county in 2016.

Two Republicans whose districts included part of the county, Ed Royce and Darrell Issa, announced that they would retire, and another, Dana Rohrabacher, is viewed as vulnerable.

In early returns, Democrats risked being shut out of a race to challenge Rep. Jeff Denham, a Republican in the Central Valley, as well as in Rohrabacher’s district. There, Democrat Hans Keirstead was battling to secure the second spot against Republican Scott Baugh.

The mistake in the voter rolls in Los Angeles County also was a complicating factor, but polls still closed at their regular time, 8 p.m. Among those affected: Henry Winkler, the star of “Happy Days,” who tweeted that his name was left off.

One entertainment figure, Antonio Sabato Jr., was battling against another Republican, Jeffrey Burum, to get a place on the November ballot to challenge Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.) in a Ventura County district.

Sabato highlighted a hardline stance on illegal immigration and his support for President Trump in a district that Clinton won handily in 2016. He told Variety that an improving economy will change voter sentiment in the general election.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) faced a primary challenge from a fellow Democrat, Kevin de Leon, the former leader of the state Senate. She held a wide lead in the primary, but de Leon was expected to make the No. 2 slot, setting up a generational face off and intra-party battle in the fall. In early returns, he was trailing Republican James Bradley for that spot.

Trump weighed in not just on the governor’s race but in congressional contests. He also sent a general tweet in support of all of the GOP candidates for Congress, and specifically named two incumbents: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Much of Hollywood’s support in the gubernatorial race went to Newsom and Villaraigosa. Although Newsom garnered more contributions from the industry, Villaraigosa also got an assist from an independent expenditure group that highlighted his support for charter schools and education reform. Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, contributed $7 million to the effort, allowing them to air ads in support of Villaraigosa in expensive TV markets.

Newsom preferred to run against Cox in the general election, on the belief that he would be easier to beat. Cox, however, said that Newsom should be “careful what you wish for.”

Seven other states held primaries Tuesday, including Alabama, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota.