Six gubernatorial candidates face off in a prime-time debate airing tonight on NBC, as voting gets underway in the June primary contest that will determine who will make the November runoff.
If past debates are an indication of what's to come, issues that will take center stage include:
The economy & taxes. California Republicans are assailing Democrats for creating the wealth gap. California now has the world's 5th largest economy, with its total economic value greater than that of the United Kingdom. But the state also leads the nation in homelessness. Housing costs are soaring, and it consistently ranks No. 1 in the U.S. for poverty when factoring in the high cost of living.
Democrats, including frontrunner and former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, former schools chief Delaine Eastin and state Treasurer John Chiang, will make their case on why they're the best to address the state's rising cost of living, while seeking to convince viewers that they're also well-suited to lead California through the next economic recession that Gov. Jerry Brown has warned about.
The two most prominent Republicans, Assemblyman Travis Allen and businessman John Cox, will likely push their agenda of repealing the gas tax increase approved last year by Brown and the Legislature. Both have complained that California's taxes are the highest in the nation, and that is undercutting economic growth.
Housing. Newsom and Villaraigosa have both pledged to build a whopping 3.5 million homes between now and 2025, an ambitious target and one that Chiang and Eastin have challenged as an empty promise.
The bigger picture in California is how the candidates believe California should grow, and how to spur the level of development needed to help alleviate the housing crisis. All the Democrats say the state should build closer to public transportation, and believe in tools to stimulate affordable housing.
Meanwhile, Allen characterizes housing subsidies as government handouts and says he believes every Californian wants a single-family home with a backyard. Cox has focused his comments on the need for less government regulation for developers and business. Rent control could also come up.
California's "sanctuary state" law. Republicans are flat out opposed to it, they're campaigning to repeal it and they're celebrating cities across the state that want out. Democrats boast about the contributions of immigrants to the state, including its economy, diversity and culture. Expect this to be a major talking point.
Single payer health care: The debate about whether California should run its own taxpayer-financed health care system could come up — again. The back-and-forth has died down somewhat in recent weeks, but if it does arise, the conflict would likely be between Newsom and Villaraigosa, who have sparred over its cost and potential viability. Both Republicans oppose the concept, and want to repeal Obamacare.
Guns and police use-of-force: The Sacramento shooting death of Stephon Clark by police has inserted the issues of law enforcement and police use-of-force in the governor's race.
Watch for Republican candidates to speak to the broader law enforcement community by talking about law and order, and Democrats to discuss possible changes they feel are needed in policing and gun laws.
The debate, hosted by NBC Bay Area and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and moderated by NBC News' Political Director Chuck Todd, will be broadcast from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
There's a watch party at Vallejo's Restaurant, 1100 O St., Sacramento beginning at 6 p.m.
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VOTING BEGINS: Mail-in ballots are en route across California, kicking off official voting ahead of the June 5 primary.
Californians are increasingly opting to cast their votes by mail, largely out of convenience. Secretary of State Alex Padilla said voters can expect their ballots "in the coming days."
Not sure of your registration status? Check it here. Need to study up on the candidates (or have a friend or family
member who needs to)? Check out The Sacramento Bee voter guide.