SAN DIEGO -- What if California held a race for governor and a big chunk of Californians couldn’t care less?
When I go to events, meetings or social engagements, people often talk about politics. The name “Trump” comes up. But no one ever talks about the California governor’s race, even though the crucial June 5 open primary is just a couple of weeks away.
Why crucial? In this heavily Latino and deep-blue state -- where Republicans made themselves an endangered species by succumbing to racism when railing against immigration -- Democrats tend to win general-election runoffs in November. So the primary is what counts. If the top vote-getters are both Democrats, the general election could be brutal. But if they’re a Democrat and a Republican, the former is a shoo-in and the latter should start updating his LinkedIn profile.
The state’s one-party rule could be the reason more people aren’t tuning in to the governor’s race, as it’s no fun watching a game when you already know how it will turn out.
Another explanation is that people in the nation’s most populous state -- which has the world’s fifth-largest economy behind the U.S., China, Japan and Germany -- are preoccupied. With perpetually nice weather and summer coming, who has time to worry about which Democrat is going to lead 39.5 million people into the future?
Personally, I think many Californians are burned out on politics. They can’t get over the 2016 election because Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton keep talking about it. Also, many people are sick of politicians and the hysteria they whip up, the telenovelas they create and the villains they conjure.
The stars of the state’s $2.7 trillion economy are the tech sector and Hollywood. One makes cool products, the other makes blockbuster movies. All politicians make is noise, division and promises they don’t keep.
Laugh about it, shout about it. But Californians will soon have to choose -- a new governor.
This race was supposed to be about San Francisco vs. Los Angeles, and two liberal ex-Democratic mayors -- Gavin Newsom of San Francisco and Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles -- slugging it out, with the conservative farmland of Central California breaking the tie. It was going to be about Villaraigosa looking for a sweet spot where he inspires brown folks without scaring white folks. It was going to be about Democrats vying to be the most anti-Trump candidate, since Clinton won the state by 30 points. And it was going to be about the GOP just running a placeholder with no shot at making the runoff.
Yet this race isn’t about any of those things. It’s about the lesser aversion. Whomever you support, it’s probably because you’re repulsed by one or more of the alternatives.
Newsom is the state’s lieutenant governor, so he has an empty desk, a light workload and plenty of time to campaign. He has led in every poll, with about 21-23 percent of the vote. Yet the fact that he sat out debates has fueled the perception that he is the entitled candidate who thinks earning votes is beneath him.
The real contest -- for No. 2 -- is between Villaraigosa and the leading Republican, Illinois businessman John Cox, who has two votes for sure: his own and Newsom’s. That’s because, if Villaraigosa makes it into the runoff, and even a sliver of Latinos -- who make up nearly 40 percent of the state’s population -- turn out in November, it could be adios to Newsom.
The bad news for Villaraigosa: He seems stuck in the high teens, which may only be good enough for third place -- behind Newsom and Cox, who has climbed to about the same level as Villaraigosa.
The good news: Most polls show a big chunk of voters -- perhaps as high as 25 percent -- are still undecided, and Villaraigosa just started going on the airwaves thanks to a huge infusion of cash from billionaire charter-school advocates. These deep-pocketed donors see Newsom as hopelessly wedded to teachers’ unions that like the status quo.
Meanwhile, Cox may be a California transplant, but he learns fast. He has totally acclimated to the poisonous ways of the state Republican Party. The GOP is demonizing a widely misunderstood state law that supposedly protects illegal immigrants from arrest and deportation. This fantastical narrative would be easier to swallow if illegal immigrants weren’t being arrested and deported in California every single day. The whole drama has many people in the Golden State seeking “sanctuary” from stupidity.
No wonder many Californians would rather tune out and spend their time at the beach.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is email@example.com. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.