GOP poised to secure spot in California governor race

GOP poised to secure spot in California governor race
© Hill Photo illustration/Garrett Evans
OAKLAND, Calif. — A day before voters head to the polls to winnow the field of 27 candidates running for California governor, private surveys show businessman John Cox (R) surging into second place behind the front-runner, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D).
Internal tracking polls obtained by The Hill, which were conducted independently of any gubernatorial campaign by both Democratic and Republican pollsters, show Newsom taking a little less than 30 percent of the vote, with Cox clocking in north of 20 percent. State Assemblyman Travis Allen (R), former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D) and state Treasurer John Chiang (D) are all bunched around 10 percent.
That tweet came at the encouragement of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthySunday shows preview: Coronavirus dominates as White House continues to push vaccination effort Trump spokesman says defeating Cheney a top priority Gaetz, Greene tout push to oust Cheney: 'Maybe we're the leaders' MORE (R-Calif.) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), according to two sources close to both men. McCarthy encouraged fellow Republican members of Congress to unite behind Cox in recent weeks, in hopes of securing him a spot in the November runoff.
While Cox would be the distinct underdog in a matchup against Newsom in a state where unaffiliated voters outnumber Republicans, his presence on the fall ballot is still significant. Republicans had worried for months that failing to get a candidate through Tuesday's all-party primary would mean GOP voters would stay home in November.
Cox is a wealthy businessman who has spent millions of dollars on past campaigns. His presence on the fall ballot will give Republicans in critical swing districts, where the party is defending seven U.S. House seats in districts that Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMcConnell: Taliban could take over Afghanistan by 'the end of the year' Hillary Clinton: There must be a 'global reckoning' with disinformation Pelosi's archbishop calls for Communion to be withheld from public figures supporting abortion rights MORE won in 2016, a reason to show up at the polls.
"You have to have a Republican talking about the issues," McCarthy said in an interview Sunday. "If you have nobody making the policy arguments, turnout would collapse. Now we've got a whole different conversation."
Newsom, a former mayor of San Francisco, has led the field since joining the race to replace term-limited Gov. Jerry Brown (D). He initially faced a stiff challenge from both Villaraigosa, whose campaign was bolstered by millions in outside spending from charter school supporters, and Chiang, who raised an impressive amount of money for his own campaign.
But Villaraigosa and Chiang never caught fire. Greeting voters Monday morning at a mass transit station here, Villaraigosa projected optimism even as he acknowledged he is little-known outside the city he used to run.
"I know people up here don't know [my] name like the way people down there do," Villaraigosa told a handful of voters who stopped to shake his hand. "When you think about governor, the job most like governor is the mayor of L.A. Because L.A. is bigger than San Francisco, Oakland, San Diego, San Jose and Sacramento combined."
Later, Villaraigosa told The Hill his hopes rest on getting his voters to the polls. He has set a blistering pace of stops throughout his home base in Los Angeles County in recent weeks; he left the Oakland stop to return for several last-minute events around his city.
"It's all about turnout," he said. "My constituency is working people and middle-class families."
But turnout — outside those key House districts where Republicans and Democrats are battling for spots in the top-two primary — may be lower than expected. Interviews with voters and Democratic activists in recent days have revealed an electorate that is apathetic about its choices in Tuesday's elections.
"Newsom's being up there and being No. 2 in control, I think it's a good thing," said retiree Jim Nelson, a Democrat who lives in the Central Valley commuter hub Tracy. "I'm not real thrilled about the attack ads." 
Most of the leading Democratic candidates have striven to portray themselves as ardent liberals who would govern from Brown's left. With little differentiating the leading candidates, some progressive activists said they would vote their heart in the primary —former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin (D) has pockets of support, though she barely registers in polls — and then back Newsom in November.
"A lot of people have said, Delaine Eastin now, Gavin Newsom later," said Manny Zapata, 31, an activist in Tracy who was a delegate for Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersGOP is consumed by Trump conspiracy theories Manchin on collision course with Warren, Sanders Sanders on Cheney drama: GOP is an 'anti-democratic cult' MORE (I-Vt.) at the 2016 Democratic convention.