SAN FRANCISCO - As expected, Gov. Gavin Newsom cruised to a solid first-place finish in the primary election for governor, according to The Associated Press.
He will face off against Republican state Sen. Brian Dahle in the fall, making Newsom the prohibitive favorite to win a second four-year term.
Under California's "top two" primary system, the first and second-place finishers in all statewide races, regardless of party, face off in November.
The margin of the governor's first-place finish Tuesday was in many ways foreshadowed by the ease with which he beat back last year's effort to recall him mid-way through his third year in office. Last September, 62% of California voters voted "No" on the recall, essentially identical to the 62% who voted for Newsom over Republican challenger John Cox in the 2018 gubernatorial election.
Like elected officials at all levels, Newsom is facing headwinds from the pandemic, gas prices and inflation, in addition to voter concerns about quality of life issues including homelessness and public safety. But Newsom's campaign ads remained mostly positive, like one touting his "Courage Through Crisis" where he focused on California's resilience, with a promise to reflect the state's values, like diversity protecting the environment and following science.
Newsom overcame lingering unhappiness with his handling of the pandemic and other problems, notably the Employment Development Department's epic mishandling of the federally-funded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, where EDD paid some $20 billion in fraudulent unemployment claims and gummed up payments to those in need while investigations took place.
As the incumbent in a solidly Democratic state, Newsom benefited from an overwhelming financial advantage over his rivals. Through May, the Newsom for Governor campaign had $23 million cash on hand, most of it raised last year when Newsom faced a recall. By comparison, Sen. Dahle had just $392,485 in the bank at the end of May.
Dahle represents a sprawling state senate district that includes all or part of 11 mostly rural counties. He won the endorsement of the state Republican Party and is in sync with many of its positions, including opposition to abortion, saying climate change is not the primary cause of California's wildfires and blaming voter-approved ballot measures for the recent uptick in property crime. His positions and campaign slogan, "Restoring California," may appeal to the 24% of voters registered as Republican, but he is unlikely to approach the percentage needed to win in November.