Capitol Alert

A Democrat is gaining ground in California governor’s race, and it isn’t Gavin Newsom

Antonio Villaraigosa talks about potential foes, Tom Steyer, Eric Garcetti

Speaking on Feb. 1, 2017, 2018 California gubernatorial candidate Antonio Villaraigosa said Tom Steyer would enhance the field of candidates, but he cast doubt on whether Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti will run.
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Speaking on Feb. 1, 2017, 2018 California gubernatorial candidate Antonio Villaraigosa said Tom Steyer would enhance the field of candidates, but he cast doubt on whether Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti will run.

A new poll of likely statewide voters suggests the upcoming contest to replace Gov. Jerry Brown could be a competitive one.

And it could come down to two Democrats.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom continues to lead the race for California governor. However, he’s now joined at the top of the list by fellow Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa.

The former mayor of Los Angeles has pulled to within 5 percentage points of Newsom, 22 percent to 17 percent, according to the survey from UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies. The institute’s March poll had Newsom at 28 percent and Villaraigosa at 11 percent, even though the contest has remained low-profile.

“It’s an interesting race given that you now have two candidates from the same party who are in the lead,” said Mark DiCamillo, the poll’s director.

On the Republican side, the prospect of another candidate joining businessman John Cox has halved his share since March, from 18 percent to 9 percent. David Hadley, a former Assemblyman from Manhattan Beach considering a gubernatorial bid, came in at 8 percent. He was not included in the March survey.

The early surveying suggests that Newsom, the front-runner in every public poll to date, would prefer just one better-known Republican to run. Villaraigosa, or another Democratic who may emerge, would want more than one GOP challenger with fundraising prowess so they could split the vote.

Rounding out the field of declared candidates are two Democrats, Treasurer John Chiang (5 percent), and former state schools superintendent Delaine Eastin (3 percent). More than 1 in 3 voters (37 percent) remained undecided.

Separately, three-quarters of voters said they have no opinion of Chiang and nearly the same amount did not have an opinion of Eastin. Newsom and Villaraigosa were by far the two best-known candidates.

The dynamics of the race, which is one year away, are still deeply in flux. Aside from some sporadic events, and the recent Democratic Party convention, there has been little contact with voters, who, if they pay attention to politics, are being blanketed with national coverage of President Donald Trump and Washington. In California, coverage of the state Capitol is still dominated by Brown, who recently flexed his muscle by pushing though a tax increase to pay for road repairs.

There also are questions about who ultimately runs for governor. Several potential candidates are on the sidelines weighing their options, including billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León and former Controller Steve Westly.

In the March survey, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was the most viable Democrat not in the governor’s race.

The early contours of the race suggest it will be heavily influenced by turnout.

Newsom, a San Francisco native who served as the city’s mayor before stepping into the lieutenant governor’s post, does well with liberal Democrats, particularly those from the Bay Area, as well as with white non-Hispanic voters and those from upper-income households making more than $100,000 a year.

Villaraigosa is preferred among those living in Southern California. He has a huge lead with Latinos and people who were born outside of the United States. He also leads Newsom, 29 percent to 23 percent, among those with annual household incomes of less than $40,000.

“You don’t usually see the contours as sharply drawn as you do now,” DiCamillo said, pointing the the constituencies that are breaking for Villaraigosa.

DiCamillo added: “If he can arouse them ... (and) get them to vote, he does better.”

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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