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It's Gavin Newsom Vs. John Cox for California Governor. Who Are They?

Tuesday's primary results pit a Democrat against a Republican in contest for the top spot

What to Know

  • California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and businessman John Cox will face off in the November election in the race for governor
  • The candidates are vying to replace California's longest-serving governor, Jerry Brown
  • Under California's unusual open primary system, the top two candidates who receive the most votes advance, regardless of party

California's crowded field for governor was knocked down to two Tuesday, when voters picked Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Republican businessman John Cox as the winners of the state's primary. 

The contest had been watched closely because of the state's unusual system, in which the two candidates who receive the most votes advance, regardless of party. Tuesday's results mean a traditional match of a Democrat versus Republican.

The peculiarity of the open primary saw two of the Democrats, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, promoting Republican rivals to better their own chances. 

[GALLERY] Gov. Jerry Brown Through the Years

Gov. Jerry Brown, the state's longest-serving governor, is barred by term limits from running again and in all, 27 people ran to replace him in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 45 percent to 26 percent, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. 

Now that voters have chosen, meet the candidates for governor.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom
As the front-runner, Newsom has come under heightened scrutiny.

The Los Angeles Times reviewed his record as lieutenant governor and reported that he missed numerous meetings of the boards he sits on. The job is mostly a ceremonial one and being a member of the University of California Board of Regents, the California State University Board of Trustees and the California State Lands Commission are among the lieutenant governor’s more significant duties, the newspaper wrote.

When Newsom’s critics faulted him, he responded that he was there for every difficult vote.

Newsom ran for governor in 2010 but switched to the lieutenant governor’s race after Jerry Brown entered the contest.

Newson was the mayor of San Francisco for two terms, first elected at age 34. In 2004 he ordered the city to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The marriage licenses were nullified six months later but the decision put him in the national spotlight in a battle that ended with the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing gay marriages in 2015.

“I had no right to do this,” Newsom acknowledged to The Mercury News in February. “We didn’t have the formal authority. But we tried to exercise our moral authority and challenge the laws.”

Newson gained less welcome attention when it was revealed that he had had an affair with his appointments secretary and the wife of his campaign manager and best friend.

Last year, one of Newsom’s Democratic rivals, state Treasurer John Chiang, highlighted a 2009 article in SF Weekly that argued that the city was the worst run big city in the United States. It had failed to make progress on homelessness, had a transportation system plagued by deficits and undertook capital projects that busted budgets, the newspaper wrote. That year the city’s budget was $6.6 billion for about 800,000 residents.

Newsom’s political consultant tweeted that the attack was a sign of desperation.

Newson, 50, helped to create a program that provided access to universal health care for residents of San Francisco, and as a candidate for governor, he supports universal health care for the state.

He proposed strengthening California’s gun laws and supported legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, both passed by the state’s voters in 2016.

Newson, a fourth-generation San Franciscan grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and attended Santa Clara University. He opened the PlumpJack Wines shop in 1992 with financial backing from Gordon Getty, the old fortune heir. His father, William Newson, was a former judge, manager of the Gordon P. Getty Family Trust.

The enterprise has since grown into 21 businesses including wineries, restaurants and hotels.

He became a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1997. 

He, his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newson, and their four children live in Marin County.

Republican John Cox

A venture capitalist who lives in Rancho Sante Fe in San Diego County, Cox got a late primary endorsement from President Donald Trump and with it a boost to his poll numbers. Trump continued his support for Cox in a tweet last week, “He’ll Make California Great Again!” and again Tuesday morning, “He will make a BIG difference.”

By last week, Cox had come in second behind Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom in a survey from the UC Berkeley Institute for Governmental Studies. He polled 20 percent to Newsom’s 33 percent and up from the mere 9 percent he had in December. He had the backing of 50 percent of conservative voters.

Cox did not vote for Trump in 2016, a decision he now says he regrets, but he echoes many of Trump’s positions. He approves of the plan to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and rejects what are known as sanctuary laws that limit cooperation between federal and local officials. He says that they help to protect undocumented immigrants who have committed a crime.

Cox blames the California Environmental Quality Act, the state’s broad environmental law, for contributing to the state’s affordable housing shortage and says he would repeal it. He would reverse California’s gas tax rise, passed by the state’s Democratic-controlled legislature as the first step in raising $5.4 billion for transportation projects. He criticizes the increase, whose repeal is on November’s ballot, as regressive.

He says he supports Second Amendment rights.

Cox, 62, grew up in Chicago, one of four children of a single mother who worked as a schoolteacher. He began working as an accountant and ran for elected office three times in Illinois, always unsuccessfully. He dropped out of a U.S. Senate primary in 2003 in a race that former President Barack Obama won, according to SFGate.

“I grew up with nothing,” he said at a Public Policy Institute of California speaker series, SFGate reported. “The way I’ve achieved what I’ve achieved is the ability to have my own business. It kills me when I hear politicians — and it’s mostly in the other party — and they talk about this horrible inequality we have, yet they go out and encourage more regulations, more government, more restrictions on competition, more inability to start your own business.”

Cox and his wife, Sarah, have four daughters.

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