By John Celock
California voters could end up having to choose between two Democrats for governor in November, based on a new poll.
A Public Policy Institute of California poll released Wednesday shows Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D) leading the nonpartisan June primary with the five other candidates – including three Republicans – trailing in single digits. A November race between two Democrats would be reminiscent of the 2016 U.S. Senate race in the state.
The poll has Newsom at 23 percent and Villaraigosa at 21 percent, setting up a potential Northern California vs. Southern California between the two Democrats. State Treasurer John Chiang (D) trails at nine percent, with eight percent for Republican Assemblyman Travis Allen, seven percent for Republican businessman John Cox, four percent for former Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin (D) and three percent for former U.S. Rep. Doug Ose (R).
Newsom and Villaraigosa have long been viewed as the frontrunners to succeed term limited Gov. Jerry Brown (D). Newsom, a two-term lieutenant governor and former San Francisco mayor, had originally sought the governorship in 2010 before shifting to the lieutenant governor’s race due to Brown’s lead. Newsom announced for the 2018 gubernatorial contest shortly after his 2014 race to the lieutenant governorship. He has spent much of his tenure as lieutenant governor speaking to groups statewide and building a national profile with progressive groups, seeking to capitalize on his high-profile tenure as San Francisco’s mayor.
Villaraigosa has long been viewed as a 2018 gubernatorial candidate since leaving the mayor’s office in 2013. Villaraigosa, a former state Assembly speaker, has been positioning himself as the Southern California alternative to Newsom. While his national profile has been less than Newsom, Villaraigosa has been building a statewide profile outside of his Los Angeles base.
Villaraigosa has to overcome a strong voting block from Bay Area voters in statewide races, with Brown, a former Oakland mayor, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D), a former San Francisco mayor, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D), a former San Francisco district attorney and Newsom, all holding statewide office, based partially on a heavy voting block from San Francisco. While Harris currently lives in Los Angeles, she is largely viewed as a San Francisco resident based on her tenure as district attorney.
Of California’s statewide elected officials, only Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D), a former Los Angeles city council president, hails from Southern California. Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D), a former congressman, also lives in Los Angeles, but he was appointed to the job last year by Brown to succeed Harris and is currently seeking his first term.
While Brown is from the Bay Area, his two predecessors, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democrat Gray Davis, were both from Los Angeles, while Davis was preceded by Republican Pete Wilson, a San Diego resident.