Dan Walters

No surprise: Newsom tops poll for 2018 governor race

Gov. Jerry Brown is accompanied by his wife, Anne Gust Brown, as they pay a visit to Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and his wife Jennifer Siebel Newsom after both politicians were sworn in to office on Jan. 10, 2011. Newsom hopes to succeed Brown as governor.
Gov. Jerry Brown is accompanied by his wife, Anne Gust Brown, as they pay a visit to Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and his wife Jennifer Siebel Newsom after both politicians were sworn in to office on Jan. 10, 2011. Newsom hopes to succeed Brown as governor. Sacramento Bee file

A new poll indicates that Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is, by a wide margin, the leading candidate for governor two years hence – which shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Six years ago, as mayor of San Francisco and the leading proponent of same-sex marriage rights, Newsom wanted to run for governor but was chased out, in a manner of speaking, by Jerry Brown.

Forced to settle for what political insiders call “light governor,” Newsom kept on running and eventually made his 2018 candidacy official while sponsoring two 2016 ballot measures to legalize marijuana and regulate ammunition.

This year, Newsom’s political apparatus has made nonstop appeals to donors, seeking money for the two measures, even though there was virtually no organized opposition to either, and within hours of the Nov. 8 election, when both were approved, he had shifted to pleading for more money for the 2018 campaign.

The Field Poll of registered voters, conducted just before the election, found that Newsom, at 23 percent, easily leads the pack of declared and potential candidates.

Interestingly, San Diego’s Republican mayor, Kevin Faulconer, comes in second at 16 percent, followed by Republican Ashley Swearengin, the soon-to-be ex-mayor of Fresno, at 11 percent.

The others, all Democrats, are in single digits: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, 7 percent; former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, 6 percent; businessman/environmentalist Tom Steyer, 5 percent; Secretary of State Alex Padilla, 4 percent; Treasurer John Chiang, 2 percent; and former Controller Steve Westly, 1 percent.

Villaraigosa and Chiang are announced candidates while Westly has semi-announced, and all the others are just potentials. In fact, Faulconer has publicly denied interest in running.

The election will be another exercise in the state’s top-two primary system, under which the top two vote-getters in the June primary, regardless of party, face each other in November.

The first statewide test of the system came this year, with Attorney General Kamala Harris and Rep. Loretta Sanchez, both Democrats, making the runoff as several Republican candidates split the GOP vote.

The Field Poll indicates that a solitary Republican candidate such as Faulconer could make it into the runoff, particularly if there are four or even five Democrats running. But in the absence of a viable Republican, it’s likely to be a race for second place in the primary, setting up a November duel between Newsom and one of the other Democrats.

Of the Democrats, Garcetti might have the best shot of making the runoff, were he to run. When party labels were omitted from the survey, he finished second to Newsom, albeit with less than half of latter’s support.

Newsom benefits, too, from geography, drawing particularly heavy support from Northern California vis-à-vis his declared and undeclared Democratic rivals, four of whom are from Los Angeles.

There is, however, another wild card. Dianne Feinstein’s U.S. Senate seat will be up in 2018 as well, and should she opt to retire, some of the would-be governors would probably shift to that position.

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