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California Election for Governor: Gavin Newsom vs John Cox

It looks like voters will have a real choice this November

Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom and Republican businessman John Cox won the most votes in California’s gubernatorial primary, advancing to a general election that will test the state’s position as leader of the resistance to President Donald Trump.

California Election for Governor: Gavin Newsom vs John Cox

Newsom, a Democrat who was long considered the front-runner, captured the biggest share of votes Tuesday, according to the Associated Press. Cox, who has never won a political race and was endorsed by Trump, placed second in a crowded field of 27 contenders. Under California’s system, the top two finishers in the primary advance regardless of party.

Gavin Newsom, the Democratic lieutenant governor and former mayor of San Francisco, took a major step Tuesday in his bid to become California’s next governor, capturing one of two spots on the November ballot, according to The Associated Press, as the state moved closer to the end of the era of Gov. Jerry Brown.

John Cox, a Republican businessman backed by President Trump, captured the other spot, setting up what is — at best — a very long-shot bid for Mr. Cox in a decidedly Democratic state where Mr. Trump lost by nearly four million votes.

California Election for Governor: Gavin Newsom vs John Cox

Mr. Cox’s showing represented a major tactical victory for national Republicans as they seek to protect seven Republican-held congressional seats in California that Democrats are targeting as they try to recapture the House. Republican leaders, including Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader who comes from central California, had feared that having no Republicans running for a high-profile statewide office would diminish turnout among party voters in the fall.

The November race between Mr. Newsom and Mr. Cox promises to be, in part, a fight over Mr. Trump, and one in which the liberal Democrats who embraced Mr. Newsom have a clear advantage. The election is taking place at a critical time as California is enmeshed in a protracted fight with the Trump administration on range of battlefields, including environmental protections, immigration and offshore oil drilling. And on Tuesday night, both candidates invoked Mr. Trump in dueling remarks to supporters.

The California results were muddled in the most-watched races here: seven congressional districts that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016 and that are now held by Republicans. Democrats are aiming to capture those seats in November, a linchpin of their strategy to take back control of the House.

Newsom and Cox will vie in November to succeed Jerry Brown, the 80-year-old Democrat who over the last 17 months has become the outspoken chief of blue states’ resistance to Trump’s policies. California has challenged the U.S. government at the pace of two lawsuits per month since the president’s inauguration, with flash points including immigration policies and auto-emissions limits.

Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor who gained national recognition for being an early promoter of gay marriage, is an outspoken critic of Trump’s policies.

California Election for Governor: Gavin Newsom vs John Cox

“It’s time for change, but not just here,” Newsom, 50, said in an email to supporters Tuesday night. “All of America’s future is defined by California’s present.”

Cox, 62, has said Californians want him to work with the administration. He faces a tough general-election fight going against Newsom in a state with a heavy liberal tilt. Not only do registered Democrats outnumber Republicans — by 44.4 percent to 25.1 percent — but so do unaffiliated voters at 25.5 percent.

The primary was a disappointment for Antonio Villaraigosa, a former Los Angeles mayor and state assembly leader who was an early frontrunner in polls before falling behind Cox in recent weeks. He initially called for voting to be extended after more than 100,000 people were left off the roster at polling places in Los Angeles County, but conceded defeat late Tuesday and threw his support behind Newsom.

“It looks like voters will have a real choice this November — between a governor who is going to stand up to Donald Trump and a foot soldier in his war on California,” Mr. Newsom told hundreds of supporters at a San Francisco nightclub, as he pledged to push for guaranteed health care for all and “a Marshall Plan for affordable housing.”

Mr. Cox, speaking to friends and donors in San Diego, continually painted Mr. Newsom as “part of the status quo” and knocked the Democrat’s attacks on Mr. Trump.

Fiscal Questions

The governor’s race holds importance to Wall Street, which has rewarded Brown’s fiscal discipline in an economy that has become the world’s fifth-largest. In the past eight years, the governor whittled down a $27 billion deficit and turned around state finances, leaving his successor a $9 billion surplus. California bonds are so in demand, they are trading similar to top-rated municipal debt.

But with Brown warning that an economic downturn is overdue given the length of the current expansion, investors want to know how the next governor would avoid a return to an era of crippling deficits, especially since the candidates haven’t addressed how they would deal with a recession.

“We know one is coming at some point,” said Gabriel Petek, an analyst at S&P Global Ratings. “That will test the state’s fiscal resilience, and it will only be harder if they extended their commitments further.”

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