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Cox and Villaraigosa Fight for Second Place and for Oxygen

Cali voters snoozing through the gov primary

By Evan Gahr

John Cox is hoping to come in second place (at least) to ensure that a Republican lands on the November ballot. (johncoxforgovernor.com)

Republican businessman John Cox and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa are locked in a close battle for second place in the gubernatorial race, with Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom well ahead of both men, two new polls show.

Meanwhile, outside groups are pouring huge amounts of money into the contest. But the general public seems indifferent to the whole thing. The Los Angeles Times/USC Dornsife poll found that four out of ten voters were not paying particular attention to the contest. And 84% did not bother watching the fierce gubernatorial debate earlier this month.

“We know from this data that this is not a race that has grabbed the state,” said the prominent Republican consultant Mike Murphy. “This is kind of a sleep-walking zombie election.”

According to the LA Times/USC poll, Newsom was way ahead at 21 percent. Cox, who recently landed the enthusiastic endorsement of the president, and Villaraigosa were virtually tied, with 10% and 11% respectively. Democrat John Chiang and Republican Travis Allen were way behind, with Allen at 5%, with Chiang one percentage point higher.

Educator Delaine Eastin was bringing up the rear with just 3%, despite having secured endorsements from prominent progressives earlier this month.

Another new poll, by the Public Policy Institute of California, put Newsom out front with 25%. Cox was trailing in second place with 19%; Villaraigosa just behind him with 15%.  Allen got 11%, ahead of Chiang at 9%.  Eastin was the bottom feeder at six percent.

The close contest between Villaraigosa and Cox could prompt outside groups to pour even more money into the race.  Unlike campaigns, outside organizations, known as independent expenditure committees, can spend unlimited money on races, with the proviso that they can’t directly coordinate with their favored candidate.

The Los Angeles Times reports that, “An unprecedented amount of money from wealthy donors, unions and corporations is flowing into the California governor’s race, giving independent groups — unrestricted by contribution limits — a greater say in picking the state’s chief executive than ever before.”

“The groups have already spent more than $26 million through [May 24], the most ever spent by non-candidate committees in a gubernatorial primary, according to a Times analysis of campaign finance reports.”

By way of contrast, in the 2014 primary outside groups spent only $660,000.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (antonioforcalifornia.com)

The bulk of the money this time around is coming from prominent charter school supporters backing Villaraigosa, who has been generally supportive of charter schools, placing him at odds with teachers’ unions, which he trashed as Los Angeles mayor.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other charter school aficionados have donated $16 million to outside groups supporting the former LA mayor’s campaign.  Most of the money has gone for television commercials—hyping his supposedly positive record on finances, crime and education, the Times says.

Newsom is considered by backers to be hostile to charter schools.  Groups supporting the lieutenant governor have received $1 million from the California Teachers Union, $3 million from the powerful Service Employees International Union and almost $1 million from Blue Shield of California.

But is all this outside money going to make a difference on Tuesday and, ultimately, in November?

Maybe, if past is prologue.

The Times notes that in the 2010 gubernatorial race unions spent tens of million dollars supporting Democrat Jerry Brown, then state attorney general, against Republican businesswoman Meg Whitman. The “effort that was viewed as crucial to stalling Whitman’s campaign. He ultimately won the race by 13 points.”

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