California voters will decide this November whether Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom or Republican businessman John Cox will succeed Gov. Jerry Brown in leading the nation's most populous state and the fifth-largest economy in the world. Here are four major takeaways from the gubernatorial primary contest.
Donald Trump was omnipresent
President Donald Trump served as the backdrop in both candidates' election speeches Tuesday night, with Newsom saying Californians have a choice "between a governor who will stand up to Donald Trump and a foot soldier on his war on California."
Cox, who has the president's endorsement, said it "wasn't Donald that made California the highest-taxes state in the country, it was Gavin Newsom and the Democrats."
The messages reflect the tone underlying how the race for California's highest political office was fought. All four major Democrats, including Newsom, sought to convince voters he or she was best suited to lead the California-versus-Trump war, while the two Republicans said Trump's brand of politics, calling for lower taxes and tough immigration laws, is what the state needs.
Trump also helped to shape the outcome directly by endorsing Cox and helping him to gain footing among Republicans over rival Republican Travis Allen but also indirectly. Despite soaring political enthusiasm since Trump took office, especially among Democrats, only a third of all the state's registered voters were expected to actually cast votes — tracking with the historical average in low-turnout gubernatorial primary elections.
"The fact is that for a long time, we were holding an election for governor and nobody was paying attention," said Darry Sragow, publisher of the nonpartisan California Target Book. "There was a low level of interest because of the fact that Donald Trump and what's going on in Washington, D.C., just takes up all the oxygen in the room. ... If you look at the news, it's all Trump all the time."
Trump himself tweeted Wednesday morning, saying, "Great night for Republicans! Congratulations John Cox on a really big number in California. ... So much for the big Blue Wave, it may be a big Red Wave. Working hard!"
The outcome shapes the battle ahead for the House
Democrats say California having Newsom at the top of the ticket this November will help drive Democrats and liberal-leaning voters to the polls, increasing turnout in a midterm general election as the California Democratic Party seeks to play a major role in the national fight to flip the House. California has seven Republican-held districts that went for Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016.
Republicans, who risked being shut out in November, also believe Cox will give Republicans and conservative-leaning voters a reason to show up on Election Day, helping their chances of retaining control.
Newsom, the top vote-getter in the primary, said before the results were clear that if he made it to the general, he'd play a major role in helping Democratic candidates gain seats in Congress and the state Legislature.
"A unified Democratic Party running against Trump, Cox or all the down-ballot Republicans supported by Trump ... organizing its investment of time and energy and resources ... to get out the vote — that's the ticket," Newsom said as he campaigned across the state in the final days of the election. "This is about taking back Congress."
Newsom said he'd "go out of his way to be other-people-oriented in terms of helping the down-ballots. … I will feel a great sense of responsibility because the stakes are that high."
Cox, meanwhile, could capitalize on his support from the president in campaigning to help congressional Republicans in competitive districts in the Central Valley and Orange County. He stands little chance of defeating Newsom in November, but keeping the pressure on Democrats and their support for sanctuary state laws and last year's gas tax increase could further energize Republican voters.
California's top-two primary campaigning is a strange art form
Newsom elevated Cox by airing advertisements describing the Republican's lifelong membership in the National Rifle Association and his opposition to strong gun control laws. Billionaire supporters of former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa hit Cox for his past failed campaigns while also promoting rival Republican Allen in an attempt to split the Republican vote and enable Villaraigosa to advance to second place in the November runoff.
Campaigning in California's top-two primary system is continuing to develop, as moderate Democrats, including Villaraigosa and his supporters, test strategies that could help them advance to a Democrat-on-Democrat race.
"The top-two primary is a three-dimensional game of chess, and there are an infinite number of variables when you're trying to run a campaign in a top-two," Sragow said. "You have unprecedented developments in this campaign. For example, Gavin Newsom and his supporters trying to drive votes to John Cox in an effort to engineer a November election that will be one Democrat versus one Republican, because it's virtually impossible for a Republican to win statewide."
The 2016 Senate race, between Kamala Harris and former Rep. Loretta Sanchez, is the only time voters elevated two members of the same party to a runoff in a statewide race. While it looks like two Democrats advanced Tuesday in the lieutenant governor’s contest, the governor's race shows Californians remain dedicated to voting for candidates of their respective parties.
"Everything is viewed through that partisan lens," said Mark DiCamillo, director of polling at UC Berkeley's Institute of Governmental Studies. "This top two primary was an attempt to allow moderate candidates to advance, but that isn't happening. Why? Because of the hyper-partisanship of the times."
Latino voters aren't yet a powerful force
Villaraigosa in the final days of the campaign battled for Latino voters on his home turf in Los Angeles, home to the largest share of Latinos in California. He was the preferred candidate among that demographic, according to public opinion polls, but that didn't make a difference for him in the end.
Latinos comprise 34 percent of California's population but just 18 percent of likely voters, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. And although the state's growing diversity means more Latinos are becoming eligible to vote at a fast rate, they are not registering and turning out in ways that help shape elections, said Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California.
Much of it is because the growing Latino share of the electorate is younger, and young people tend not to vote in nonpresidential primary contests. Political observers thought early on that could change with Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric and tough stance on those living in the country illegally, but resistance to Trump on immigration failed to have a measurable impact in the governor's race.