LARKSPUR (AP) — A Democratic heavyweight faces a Republican businessman who’s never held elected office in Tuesday’s race for California governor, which will determine the future of the state’s aggressive resistance to President Donald Trump.
Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is strongly favored over Republican John Cox in a state where the GOP has 3.8 million fewer registered voters.
The job is open because Democrat Jerry Brown is termed out. The 80-year-old Brown has been governor for 16 years, first from 1975 to 1983 and then again starting in 2011 after completing a remarkable political comeback.
Elsewhere in California, Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is favored to win re-election at age 85 and Democrats are seeking to win as many as seven GOP U.S. House seats as they try to retake control of Congress. A ballot initiative to reverse a gas tax hike backed by Brown is a rallying cry as Republicans seek a way to stay relevant in a state where Democrats control all the levers of power.
Under Brown, California has taken a combative stance against Trump and his policies on immigration, health care and the environment. Newsom, 51, has pledged to continue the battle, while trying to bring about universal health care and help impoverished children.
Cox, 63, a lawyer and investor living in the San Diego area, hammered relentlessly on California’s high cost of living, for which he blamed Newsom and the Democrats who control the Legislature and every statewide office. He pledged to cut taxes and roll back environmental laws that he says delay housing construction.
On Tuesday, Cox began his Election Day with a family breakfast and a tweet urging Californians to get to the polls.
Cox, who voted last week, tweeted a picture with his wife Sarah and one of his daughters. The post urged Californians to vote and said: “Change vs. status quo” with the hashtag, #HelpIsOnTheWay.
Newsom cast his ballot Tuesday at a Masonic lodge in the Bay Area as he held his 2-year-old son. He told reporters afterward that while he hopes to win the election, it wouldn’t mean as much if Democrats don’t take back the U.S. House.
“So much is at stake,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a gross exaggeration to say that Trump’s declared war on California … It’s so important that folks get out and vote all across the state.”
For the past eight years Newsom has been lieutenant governor, a position with almost no power. Before that, as San Francisco mayor, he rocketed into the national spotlight when he ordered the issuing of marriage licenses to same-sex couples when it wasn’t legal.
Newsom promised similarly bold moves involving the priorities of his party’s liberal base. He spent much of the campaign raising money and holding rallies for Democrats running for seats in Congress and the Legislature, building goodwill with lawmakers with whom he’ll be working if he wins.
Newsom has made himself a foil for Trump in California, a state that has passed laws and filed lawsuits aimed at thwarting the president’s agenda on health care, immigration and climate change. He’s drawn the ire of the president, who has mocked Newsom’s policies and at one rally called him “this clown in California who’s running for governor.”
Cox downplayed his conservative stances on social issues — he opposes abortion and supports more aggressive enforcement of immigration laws — and has tried to avoid talking about Trump and national political debates. He’s emphasized his roots as businessman, saying Newsom is part of a “political class” that’s indebted to special interests.
Cox grew up in Chicago and had a career as an accountant, lawyer and financial adviser when Jack Kemp’s 1988 presidential campaign turned him on to Republican politics. Since the 1980s, with the help of investors, he’s bought more than 2,000 apartment units in the Midwest.
He made repeated unsuccessful runs for office in Illinois, including U.S. House, Senate, president and Cook County recorder of deeds. In 2011, he moved full-time to California, where he backed unsuccessful ballot measures that would have vastly expanded the number of seats in the state Legislature and required politicians to wear the logos of their top contributors like race car drivers do with sponsors. Neither idea qualified for the ballot.
The next governor will likely find a Democratic Legislature antsy to boost spending for the social safety net and higher education after eight years of Brown holding the line on such spending. He’ll also inherit strong state finances with billions in budget reserves and a surplus along with the ever-present threat that an economic downturn will once again force cuts in the state that disproportionately relies on income taxes paid by the wealthy.
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