California’s Democratic attorney general advanced to the November general election Tuesday and was on pace to face the Republican Party’s endorsed candidate in a state that overwhelmingly favors Democrats.
Attorney General Rob Bonta, the only Democrat in the five-way primary field, advanced after winning 57% of the vote.
The GOP's endorsed candidate, Nathan Hochman, trailed with 17.5% of the votes counted. Hochman is a former federal prosecutor and former assistant U.S. attorney general.
Conservative Republican Eric Early was third, with 15%, while Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, running without party affiliation, had 8% of the vote. Green Party candidate Dan Kapelovitz had 3%.
The top two vote-getters advance to the November election under California law, no matter their party affiliation.
“No Department of Justice in the country is doing more to stand up to rightwing attacks against our constitutional and legal rights — from defending abortion protections and the right to privacy to strengthening our gun safety laws,” Bonta said in a statement.
He said it was too soon to say which Republican he will face in November, but said both “have dodged basic questions about how they would handle these constitutional and legal issues if they are elected Attorney General.”
Neither Republican immediately responded to requests for comment.
Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, predicted that Bonta will win in November despite his challengers' attempts to tap into Californians' growing unease on crime.
“Because this is not just about prosecuting crime, which mostly happens on the county level," she said. "This is about what is going to be our legal policy with respect to reproductive rights, what’s going to be our legal policy with respect to Second Amendment rights, what’s going to be our policy with respect to immigration? And for all of those bigger policy questions, I think the November electorate will strongly prefer Bonta.”
California Republicans haven’t won a statewide election since 2006, and the last GOP attorney general left office in 1999.
Levinson was shocked that Schubert didn't do better, and said Schubert likely would have presented a greater challenge to Bonta. The outcome, she said, shows that even California's growing percentage of no-party-preference voters still prefer a candidate who is affiliated with one of the major parties.
Schubert said in a concession statement that she hopes the next attorney general will fight "to change our laws so that violent felons are not released early from prison without rehabilitation and that serial criminals will once again be held accountable.”
Schubert gave up her Republican affiliation four years ago to run as an independent.
Independent organizations supporting Bonta spent more than $1 million on targeted messaging advising Republican voters that Early is a Trump supporter, recall leader and defender of Second Amendment rights. Early was legal counsel for the unsuccessful effort to recall Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom last year.
Early had finished last in a four-way primary election for attorney general in 2018 and this year was far behind other candidates in campaign fundraising.
This is Bonta's first statewide race after Newsom appointed him attorney general last year to fill a vacancy.
The office of California attorney general has long provided both a national stage and a stepping stone to higher office, including recently for Vice President Kamala Harris, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and former Gov. Jerry Brown.
Becerra used the office to fight then-President Donald Trump at every turn, while Bonta has championed reproductive and LTGBQ rights and the state’s gun control efforts at the national level.