By Rhys Thomas
A political giant is leaving the California state house in Sacramento. Jerry Brown will have held the office of Governor for sixteen years when his term expires in January of next year, serving two non-consecutive spells of eight years each. It’s time for a new face at the top – Gavin Newsom, Brown’s deputy, or Republican John Cox.
California’s Gubernatorial system is unique. The state uses a nonpartisan blanket primary, and in this system all candidates run against each other without a party label. This means that several Democrats can run along with multiple Republicans, none of whom have their formal party label on the ballot. Then, the top two candidates, regardless of their party of origin, go through to the final election in the autumn. Back in June, Lieutenant Governor Newson finished on top with Cox coming second, garnering just over a quarter of the vote with Newsom winning a third. This type of election is uncommon and bizarre, with the only other area using this system being Washington State.
Newsom is happy to be facing a Republican rather than another Democrat in the general election. After all, he has held a lead in every poll – but Cox has started to narrow the gap and confidently states that “this is a real race”. One June poll had Newsom up by 29 points, with October polls now putting that lead at 5 and 12 respectively.
The two candidates met in a debate in San Francisco, in what is set to be the only head to head battle of the campaign. Newsom’s task was to link his opponent to President Donald Trump – hardly the most popular figure in the Golden State – whilst Cox attacked the Lt. Governor as a career politician not fit to fix the state’s deepening problems. They clashed on fundamental issues such as gun control and sanctuary cities (areas where local authorities don’t fully cooperate with federal immigration agents in order to encourage illegal immigrants to participate fully in society). No prizes for guessing which candidate is on each side of these issues.
Cox has walked a fine line between his support of President Trump and simultaneous avoidance of national issues. The confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has been tiptoed around, but he unashamedly supports the Trump policy of building a wall on the Mexican border. He has rebuffed attacks on his attitudes to gay marriage, saying that he has “evolved” on the issue after comparing homosexuality to bestiality some years ago.
Newsom is still hot favourite to win, despite the narrowing polls. He is a steadfast liberal and has drawn ire from President Trump despite his refusal to publicly name the former San Francisco Mayor at his rallies. He has been an early and prominent supporter of same-sex marriage, universal healthcare and the legalisation of cannabis, as well as supporting the end of the death penalty. Seen by some as a potential future Presidential candidate, a victory here is essential to fulfilling any future White House ambitions.