Gov­er­nor’s race is shap­ing up

The run for state’s top job is at­tract­ing big per­son­al­i­ties, with big­ger bat­tles to come.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Seema Me­hta Lt. Gov. Gavin New­som and for­mer Los An­ge­les Re­pub­li­cans are strug­gling to find a vi­able can­di­date. seema.me­hta @la­times.com Twit­ter: @LATSeema Learn more about the race at la­times.com/CA2018

Can­di­dates are rais­ing mil­lions and court­ing al­lies for Cal­i­for­nia’s top job. Find out who’s in and what’s next.

At a time when Cal­i­for­nia is the epi­cen­ter of the lib­eral re­sis­tance to Pres­i­dent Trump, Demo­cratic politi­cians look­ing to lead the state’s 39 mil­lion res­i­dents are lay­ing the ground­work for what could shape up to be the most con­tentious gu­ber­na­to­rial con­test in the state in nearly a decade.

Vot­ers won’t cast bal­lots un­til 2018, but can­di­dates are al­ready rais­ing mil­lions of dol­lars and court­ing donors, key po­lit­i­cal lead­ers and ac­tivists as they chart their paths for a shot at lead­ing the state that boasts the sixth largest econ­omy in the world.

The state’s next gov­er­nor will have to grap­ple with an enor­mous set of chal­lenges: deal­ing with a large pop­u­la­tion of res­i­dents who are in the U.S. il­le­gally in the face of Trump’s crackdown on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, fix­ing the state’s crum­bling in­fra­struc­ture, man­ag­ing a bud­get that is vul­ner­a­ble to wild gy­ra­tions be­cause of its de­pen­dence on tax­ing the in­comes of top earn­ers, bal­anc­ing ci­ties’ and farms’ thirst for wa­ter, and many oth­ers.

Democrats are dom­i­nat­ing the race so far, no sur­prise given their 19-point edge in voter reg­is­tra­tion, su­per­ma­jori­ties in both houses of the state Leg­is­la­ture and the fact they have held ev­ery statewide elected of­fice since 2011.

The play­ers

Mayor An­to­nio Vil­laraigosa are a di­rect con­trast in style to the termed-out gov­er­nor they hope to re­place: philo­soph­i­cal, Latin-quot­ing Jerry Brown. Both are larg­erthan-life per­son­al­i­ties who built their ca­reers, in part, on their per­sonal charisma. The pair, along with state Trea­surer John Chi­ang, are pred­i­cat­ing their can­di­da­cies on build­ing upon the eco­nomic sta­bil­ity Brown forged in the af­ter­math of the worst eco­nomic down­turn since the Great De­pres­sion.

Al­though the can­di­dates run­ning to re­place Brown are ide­o­log­i­cally sim­i­lar, their back­grounds and ex­pe­ri­ences will shape their cam­paigns.

New­som, the front-run­ner in fundrais­ing and early polling, first gained na­tional at­ten­tion when he granted same-sex mar­riage li­censes in 2004 as mayor of San Fran­cisco. It was so con­tro­ver­sial at the time that some of his fel­low Democrats blamed him when John Kerry lost the pres­i­den­tial race that year. He also was be­set by a scan­dal of his own mak­ing, no­tably an af­fair with the wife of a close friend.

He briefly ran for gov­er­nor in 2009 un­til it be­came clear that Brown would make win­ning dif­fi­cult.

New­som set­tled for lieu­tenant gov­er­nor in­stead, but never hid his rest­less­ness in that role. He was the first to an­nounce his gu­ber­na­to­rial in­ten­tions in early 2015.

For New­som, a long­time dar­ling of the Demo­cratic Party’s base, the path to the gov­er­nor’s man­sion is staked on the state’s most lib­eral vot­ers, many of whom live in his po­lit­i­cally ac­tive home base in the Bay Area.

Af­ter serv­ing as speaker of the As­sem­bly, Vil­laraigosa was elected Los An­ge­les mayor in 2005 and cel­e­brated as the first Latino to hold that po­si­tion since 1872. But within four years, the lus­ter had faded, due to cir­cum­stances both in his con­trol — an ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fair — and out of his con­trol — the fall­out of the re­ces­sion. Vil­laraigosa spent much of the rest of his ten­ure try­ing to res­ur­rect his rep­u­ta­tion — and the ad­mi­ra­tion of those who put him into of­fice.

Vil­laraigosa left elected of­fice in 2013, and vot­ers in his home base of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia fail to cast bal­lots as fre­quently as their coun­ter­parts in the Bay Area.

But as one of the most high-pro­file Latino politi­cians in the na­tion, Vil­laraigosa is count­ing on the grow­ing Latino pop­u­la­tion be­ing mo­ti­vated to turn out be­cause of Trump’s im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy. He also has been court­ing work­ing-class vot­ers in the Cen­tral Val­ley and the In­land Em­pire.

Chi­ang, who served as state con­troller be­fore be­ing elected trea­surer, is try­ing to run as Brown’s nat­u­ral prag­matic suc­ces­sor.

He can high­light his stew­ard­ship of the state’s fi­nances as he bucked the es­tab­lish­ment — in 2011, he docked state law­mak­ers’ pay for fail­ing to pass a bal­anced bud­get.

His cam­paign frames his can­di­dacy as be­ing the “adult in the room.” But rel­a­tively few vot­ers know who he is.

Also run­ning is De­laine Eastin, a for­mer state leg­is­la­tor and state schools’ chief.

She is the only woman in the race but is the least known can­di­date and has shown no abil­ity to raise money so far.

The Re­pub­li­cans

Ran­cho Santa Fe ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist John Cox has put $1 mil­lion into an ex­ploratory com­mit­tee. For­mer GOP Assem­bly­man David Hadley of Man­hat­tan Beach said he will an­nounce a de­ci­sion within weeks.

For­mer Los An­ge­les Rams football player Rosey Grier has said he plans to run, but has not taken any steps to es­tab­lish a cam­paign.

If a Repub­li­can does enter the race, he or she would face an up­hill bat­tle. Rightlean­ing con­sul­tants say it is not im­pos­si­ble — as long as the per­son raises $10 mil­lion by the end of the year to get no­ticed.

“Can a Repub­li­can pos­si­bly win? Sure. Will donors be­lieve that? Not yet,” said Rob Stutz­man, who ad­vised for­mer Gov. Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger.

The un­knowns

Few be­lieve the field is set­tled. Some­one like bil­lion­aire en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist Tom Steyer or a prom­i­nent Repub­li­can such as San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who is widely viewed as the GOP’s best chance at win­ning a statewide of­fice, could scram­ble the race. Al­though Faulconer has in­sisted he is not run­ning, Steyer is leav­ing his op­tions open.

The fu­ture of sev­eral other prom­i­nent Democrats is in flux, in­clud­ing Se­nate Pres­i­dent Pro Tem Kevin de León and Los An­ge­les Mayor Eric Garcetti. Part of the uncertainty is driven by Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, 83, who has not yet said whether she will seek a fifth term in 2018.

Gre­gory Urquiaga UC Davis

IF FOR­MER GOP Assem­bly­man David Hadley, clock­wise from left, de­cides to run for gov­er­nor, he’ll face Rosey Grier, De­laine Eastin, An­to­nio Vil­laraigosa, John Chi­ang and Gavin New­som among oth­ers.

Rich Pe­dron­celli Associated Press

Myung J. Chun Los An­ge­les Times

Gre­gory Urquiaga UC Davis

Gre­gory Urquiaga UC Davis

Gre­gory Urquiaga UC Davis

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