California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is the early favorite to succeed fellow Democrat Jerry Brown in the 2018 gubernatorial race, as the state’s second-in-command holds large advantages among Democrats and independents, according to a new Field Poll.
Newsom, leading with support from 23 percent of registered voters, is followed by a pair of rising Republicans: San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer (16 percent) and outgoing Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin (11 percent).
The poll, released late Monday, is designed to gauge dynamics of the contest as the field continues to take shape. It shows Newsom out ahead of eight other candidates, including two Democratic rivals already in the race, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and state Treasurer John Chiang.
Villaraigosa, who entered the race Thursday, casting himself as a bulwark against Republican President-elect Donald Trump’s incendiary campaign rhetoric, receives 6 percent support while Chiang, a candidate since late May, is at 2 percent.
Under the state’s primary system, the top two finishers advance to a runoff regardless of their party. The poll suggests a well-established Republican like Faulconer or Swearengin would have a strong chance of making it onto the November 2018 ballot, helping the GOP avert an all-Democrat showdown such as what happened in this year’s U.S. Senate race won by Attorney General Kamala Harris.
Newsom’s lead in the poll, built on support from Democrats (34 percent), unaffiliated voters (27 percent) and Northern Californians (39 percent), means the other Democrats would need to not only bolster their own standings with voters, but also cut away at the former San Francisco mayor’s early advantages.
A telegenic politician who ultimately stepped aside for Brown’s candidacy six years ago, Newsom landed on the national stage in 2004 when he sanctioned same-sex marriages in the city, long before the political winds swept in his favor.
This fall he helped push a pair of high-profile statewide ballot initiatives – one to legalize recreational marijuana and the other to enact even stricter gun control measures, including registration of ammunition.
Poll Director Mark DiCamillo called the initiative advocacy “a good strategic move for Newsom.”
Other possible Democratic candidates round out the poll, from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (7 percent) and billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer (5 percent) to California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (4 percent) and ex-Controller Steve Westly (1 percent). The poll was conducted before former state schools chief Delaine Eastin, a Democrat, said she intends to run for governor.
Garcetti, up for re-election in 2017, and Padilla, whose first term comes up in 2018, are both from Los Angeles and have platforms to launch gubernatorial campaigns, but they also could wait to see if U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, 83, elects to seek a fifth full term.
Steyer does not have financial demands like Newsom, Chiang and Villaraigosa to jump into the race to begin raising money. But he was among the most active Democrats in the state this year, endearing himself to the Democratic Party and its allies in labor by spending millions of dollars to pass a $2-per-pack increase in the state’s tobacco tax. Steyer also registered more than 800,000 voters in California and repeatedly denounced Trump in TV ads.