Lt. Gov. Newsom Leads in California Governor’s Race

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom addresses a Los Angeles County Democratic Central Committee meeting on Feb. 13. (Nathan Solis/Courthouse News)

SACRAMENTO (CN) — With less than two months until the field is whittled to two candidates, Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom maintains a double-digit lead in California’s crowded gubernatorial race, according to a nonpartisan poll released Wednesday.

Newsom was favored by 26 percent of likely voters in the June midterm, while Republican businessman John Cox had 15 percent support in the latest Public Policy Institute of California poll.

The survey revealed a close chase for the vital second spot, with Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa and Republican Assemblyman Travis Allen both polling within 5 points of Cox.

The top two candidates will advance to the November ballot, which will be the first election with an open governor’s seat since California switched to a top-two primary system in 2010.

The statewide PPIC survey focused primarily on education, with questions about school shootings, arming teachers and education funding.

PPIC president Mark Baldassare said Californians’ interest in the race to replace Gov. Jerry Brown is growing and that voters want to know candidates’ plans to improve the state’s public education system, which was widely viewed as one of the best in the world until voters approved Proposition 13 in 1978, limiting property tax increases and devastating funding for public education.

“Despite a rancorous political climate, majorities across party lines agree that the candidates’ positions on K-12 public schools are very important in deciding whom to support,” Baldassare said in a statement.

According to PPIC’s statewide survey of 1,700 likely voters, a majority said the state should spend more on public schools, with 60 percent saying they would vote for local bond measures to pay for school construction.

Despite improvements under Brown’s final term, California ranks only 29th in state spending per K-12 student, according to the National Education Association.

With California locked in a legal battle with the Trump administration over sanctuary policies, immigration issues also registered highly with those surveyed. Nearly two-thirds favor California public schools being designated “sanctuary safe zones,” and protections for undocumented students from immigration agents.

In the survey, taken just after the March for Our Lives demonstrations, 82 percent of parents with children in public school said they are very or somewhat concerned about school shootings.

Democratic and Independent respondents overwhelmingly opposed allowing teachers and school officials to carry guns in schools, while 60 percent of Republicans polled were in favor of arming educators.

“In the wake of the Florida mass shooting tragedy, many California public school parents are concerned about school safety,” Baldassare said.

If Cox, a wealthy San Diego businessman and former candidate for Congress and the U.S. Senate, is able to hang on to his slim lead over Villaraigosa and Allen, it could benefit Republican candidates in other statewide races. Having Cox in a high-profile November runoff would presumably increase Republican turnout for the state’s many congressional races.

“It’s looking more like a Newsom/Cox race,” Cox’s campaign manager Tim Rosales said in an email. “John Cox has closed that gap by three points, and we are in a virtual dead heat with Newsom amongst independents.”

Independent voters slightly favor Newsom to Cox, by a 25 to 23 percent margin, according to the poll.

It will be critical for the candidates trailing Newsom and Cox to sway the 22 percent of undecided respondents if they hope to advance through the so-called jungle primary.

The PPIC’s previous poll, in March, produced similar overall results, with Newsom as the choice of 28 percent of likely voters, 14 percent for Cox, 12 percent for Villaraigosa and 24 percent undecided.

The latest findings, based on a telephone survey, have a 3.2 percent margin of error. The PPIC targeted likely voters from five geographic regions and a variety of ethnicities.

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