Cox Leading Battle for 2nd Place in Governor's Race in Early Returns

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - As expected, Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom grabbed a commanding lead tonight in the race for governor, while Republican John Cox made a strong early bid for second place.

Newsom grabbed roughly 35 percent of the vote early, effectively ensuring him of a spot on the November general election ballot. But the real drama is the race for second place.

Cox, powered by an endorsement by President Donald Trump, had more than 27 percent of the vote to easily land in second place. Fellow Republican Travis Allen held a narrow lead for third place with about 11 percent of the vote, followed by Democratic former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa with 10 percent.

None of the other 23 candidates had more than 10 percent of the vote.

Villaraigosa made a plea late Tuesday for Los Angeles County to keep its polls open until Friday in response to a printing glitch that left the names of more than 118,000 voters off the voter roster at the polls. Those voters were being given provisional ballots to ensure their votes are counted. But Villaraigosa is relying heavily on support from Los Angeles County, and the glitch could lead to a delay in tallying many votes in his favor. His campaign has also expressed concerns that some voters whose names weren't on the roster may have left without voting at all.

The top two finishers in Tuesday's election will square off in November, regardless of which party they are from. Recent polls have suggested Cox has pulled ahead of Villaraigosa, bolstered by Trump's endorsement, along with an ad strategy by Newsom that some political analysts have concluded is intended to increase Cox's standing among Republican voters and assure him a second place finish. With a Republican not having won a statewide election since 2006, a Cox-Newsom showdown would heavily favor the lieutenant governor.

A poll released last week by UC Berkeley's Institute of Governmental Studies had Newsom leading with 33 percent support of likely voters, with Cox at 20 percent and Villaraigosa at 13 percent. The poll also found that only 7 percent of voters remained undecided.

Newsom rose to prominence in 2004 when as mayor he directed the San Francisco city-county clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, which was in violation of state law at the time. Newsom has remained in the state and national spotlight ever since, and after a brief run for governor in the 2010 election he dropped out in favor of a bid for lieutenant governor when it was clear that Jerry Brown was pulling away with the race. He easily won a second term and made an early declaration in 2015 that he intended to run for governor.

Newsom has proposed a universal healthcare program for California as one of his top priorities and says he supports SB 562, a bill that aims to create a single-payer system. He also promised to oppose Trump's immigration policies, and has called for universal preschool, two years of free community college, an end to the cash bail system and gun control. He also said he wants set a goal of building 3.5 million new homes by 2025 through an expansion of the low-income housing tax credit program and other initiatives.

Cox is a San Diego-area businessman who has for years pushed the idea of massively expanding the state Legislature to thousands of representatives, which he says would cut down on big money in political campaigns. Cox has failed on several occasions to get his proposal on a state ballot, but the efforts put him on the political map, and he is running on a platform to end Brown's $52 billion gas tax increase and end the ``sanctuary'' laws of the state aimed at protecting some immigrants living in the country illegally from deportation.

After distancing himself from Trump early on, he has welcomed the president's recent endorsement and in many ways is running a campaign similar to Trump's by pitching himself as a businessman -- not a politician -- and taking a hard line on immigration, including supporting construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Villaraigosa served as mayor of Los Angeles from 2005 through 2013 after stints as Speaker of the Assembly and on the Los Angeles City Council. His campaign for governor has been backed heavily by billionaire charter school supporters, and he is a longtime proponent of the growth of charters in California.

Villaraigosa has been critical of SB 562, saying it is an unrealistic goal and that California should focus on creating universal healthcare through expansion of the Affordable Care Act and Medicare. He has made economic equality a focus of his campaign through the creation of prosperity zones similar to enterprise zones that gave tax incentives to businesses creating jobs in designated areas. Those zones were eliminated during the Great Recession. Like Newsom, Villaraigosa says he wants to get 3.5 million homes built by 2025 and has proposed bringing back redevelopment agencies as one way to do it along with other initiatives.

Allen of Huntington Beach is opposed to the gas tax and the state's sanctuary laws and says he wants to work to lower taxes.

State Treasurer John Chiang, meanwhile, has marketed himself as the fiscally responsible underdog in the race. Chiang, a Democrat, has proposed addressing the affordable housing crisis through a bond. He has said he supports SB 562, but that it would need some changes.

Delaine Eastin, a Democrat, is a former state superintendent of public instruction. Despite making education a foundation of her campaign, she lost the coveted endorsement of the California Teachers Association to Newsom and has struggled to get serious momentum in the race.

Voters are also weighing in on other statewide offices.

The ballot has 11 candidates battling to succeed Newsom as lieutenant governor, among them Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-Azusa; Democratic attorney Jeff Bleich, a former U.S. ambassador to Australia; Democratic businesswoman Eleni Kounalakis, a former U.S. ambassador to Hungary; and Republican businessman Cole Harris. Those four hopefuls are easily leading the way in fundraising in the race.

Early returns show Kounalakis leading with 22.5 percent of the vote, with Harris and Hernandez head-to-head for second with 19.8 and 19.0 percent, respectively. Bleich has 9.4 percent, falling behind Republican David Fennell's 10.2 percent total.

Democrat Alex Padilla, meanwhile, is looking to maintain his job as secretary of state. He's facing seven candidates -- one Democrat, two Republicans, two Green Party hopefuls and one member of the Peace and Freedom Party. Padilla has garnered 48.5 percent of the early returns with Republican Mark Meuser the only candidate within close range at this preliminary stage, with 35.8 percent of the vote.

Betty Yee, also a Democrat is facing two challengers -- Republican Konstantinos Roditis and Peace and Freedom candidate Mary Lou Finley -- in her bid to remain state controller. Attorney General Xavier Becerra, meanwhile, is facing a feisty challenge from state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones in his bid to retain the office. Republicans Steven Bailey and Eric Early are also on the ballot. If the very early trend holds, Yee will face off with Roditis, as she currently has 58.4 percent of voters in support and Roditis can boast 37.9 percent of the early reporting precincts.

Five candidates are looking to replace Chiang as treasurer, including Democrat Vivek Viswanathan, who embarked on a 600-plus-mile campaign run -- literally -- across the state. Fellow Democrat Fiona Ma, a member of the state Board of Equalization, is also on the ballot, along with Republicans Greg Conlon and Jack Guerrero and Peace and Freedom candidate Kevin Akin. The early data has Ma in the lead with 41.2 percent and Conlon and Guerrero battling for second with 23.9 and 21.3 percent, respectively.

Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, is one of four candidates looking to become state insurance commissioner, as is Steve Poizner, who held the job from 2007-2011. Poizner switched his registration from Republican to No Party Preference earlier this year. Dr. Asif Mahmood, a Democrat, and school teacher Nathalie Hrizi, a Peace and Freedom candidate, round out the ballot. Preliminary results have Poizner and Lara at the top, with Poizner leading with 45.4 percent and Lara picking up 36.6 percent of votes in early reports.

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