Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox has surged into second place in the race for California governor, according to a new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California.
Cox, a San Diego businessman and real estate investor, is favored by 19 percent of likely voters, up from 14 percent in March. His growing support, along with President Donald Trump's endorsement last week, could result in a second-place finish in the June 5 primary and a spot in the November runoff against Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, said Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of the institute.
"The one major candidate in the race who has shown momentum over time is John Cox," Baldassare said, noting Cox's favorable rating among likely voters has jumped 10 points since December. "Certainly he's within very close range of being in second place."
However, "There's still room, and there's still time" for former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to pull ahead in a possible Democrat-on-Democrat match-up with Newsom, the clear frontrunner, he said. The top two candidates, regardless of party affiliation, advance to the runoff under California's top-two primary system.
The latest poll included voters who have already cast mail-in ballots, Baldassare said. Conducted from May 11 to May 20, it showed Villaraigosa at 15 percent, up from 12 percent in the last poll.
Public polling has consistently shown Newsom as atop the field. He's now at 25 percent support, down from 28 percent in March.
The other leading Republican in the race, Assemblyman Travis Allen of Huntington Beach, was favored by 11 percent, performing roughly the same as he did in the the April PPIC poll. Two other Democratic candidates — State Treasurer John Chiang and former state schools chief Delaine Eastin — were at 9 percent and 6 percent, respectively, while 15 percent of voters are undecided.
Allen has tried to boost his popularity among Republicans, attacking Cox for appropriating issues central to his campaign — repealing last year's gas tax increase and denouncing California's "sanctuary state" law.
Cox has pummeled Allen among Republican likely voters — 44 percent say they'll pick Cox, up from 27 percent in December — while 22 percent prefer Allen and 14 percent were undecided.
Newsom holds a commanding lead among Democrats, with 42 percent of Democratic likely voters saying they'll choose him, followed by 19 percent for Villaraigosa, 11 percent for Chiang and 9 percent for Eastin, while 14 percent said they were unsure.
Newsom could also help consolidate Republican support for Cox. His campaign is running ads touting Cox as a longstanding member of the National Rifle Association who opposes strong gun control laws.
Meanwhile, wealthy charter school supporters backing Villaraigosa are attacking Cox for not voting for Trump — a decision he said he now regrets — in hopes of pushing Villaraigosa into second place.
But Republicans have an advantage, Baldassare said. Older, more conservative Californians are more reliable voters than Democrats or independents in nonpresidential primary elections, and the four major Democrats are likely to split the Democratic vote.
"That, of course, helps a Republican," Baldassare said.