California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced on Tuesday that he will run for Governor in 2026, becoming the fourth major candidate to announce their intent more than three years until the election is to be held.
In past gubernatorial elections in California, candidates rarely announced their intent to run more than two years out. This was because of candidates not wanting to have momentum broken by the Presidential election, press focus on the first few months of the next presidential term, not wanting to have funds be depleted to keep a long-term campaign up, as well as other logistical and political issues. In 2015, then Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom broke the mold by announcing three years early, gambling to reach critical mass with support and endorsements early to win big in the primary. It worked, with Newsom winning the primary despite a crowded Democratic field and, later, the general election.
However, the status of Governor Newsom has been something of a wild card for the next few major elections. While he has said numerous times that he has no intention of running for President in 2024, his name continues to be raised as a possibility because of actions such as continued visits to other states across the country and taking part in an upcoming debate with current Republican Presidential candidate and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. There is also further speculation that Newsom would run should President Joe Biden have to bow out of the race, or that Newsom could possibly take a cabinet position in Biden’s possible second term.
In addition to the Newsom factor, many candidates looking at a possible gubernatorial run in 2026 don’t have much name recognition to the average Californian. They also remember what Newsom managed to pull off in 2018 by entering the race three years before hand and the value of what gaining early recognition, support, and endorsements can do in the long-term.
With so much at stake, several prominent Californian lawmakers and other politicians entered the race this year so far. In April, Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis and California Democratic Party Vice Chairwoman Betty Yee entered the race. The next month, Future Farmers of America President Jesse Perez entered. With speculation running rampant, names ranging from major political power players to Hollywood celebrities are among those contemplating campaigns. As of Tuesday, three other big names have publicly expressed interest for a possible run: Attorney General Rob Bonta, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and 2022 GOP State Controller candidate Lanhee Chen.
But there has also been one big name on the cusp of running since July: State Superintendent Thurmond.
Thurmond, who had previously served as a Richmond City Councilman and as an Assemblyman between 2014 and 2018, has teased his intent on running for months. On Tuesday, via a tweet, Thurmond finally made it official, becoming the fourth Democrat to enter the race.
“I didn’t come from money, power, or influence,” tweeted Thurmond on Tuesday. “I’m running for Governor to be a voice for those who need one — because California may be working for millionaires and billionaires but for the rest of California — we need real change.”
I didn’t come from money, power, or influence.
I'm running for Governor to be a voice for those who need one — because California may be working for millionaires and billionaires but for the rest of California — we need real change. Join us: https://t.co/lNHuSoTzZO pic.twitter.com/sbsEtt0DzZ
— Tony Thurmond (@TonyThurmond) September 26, 2023
In an accompanying video, Thurmond specifically highlighted Californian schools and major issues facing the state like homelessness, home ownership, and climate issues. He also added that “California has had a lot of Governors. My story is nothing like theirs. California may be a place for millionaires and billionaires, but for the rest of us, we need real change. California should be a place where everyone has a chance to succeed, no matter who you are or where you’re from, and together, we can make that a reality.”
While commentators said that Thurmond does have a compelling life story and does come into the race with political experience, they also noted that his lack of name recognition and numerous political gaffes would likely hurt him going forward.
“Say what you will about his politics, but he does have an inspiring story of getting to where he is today that he rightly highlighted in that video,” said Hope Gordon, a New York-based political analyst who focuses on female Gubernatorial candidates across the U.S. “Plus local and state experience help out too. But not many people know who Tony Thurmond actually is. And the few times he was part of a big story, it stung.”
“The big thing was him appointing a longtime buddy in Pennsylvania as Superintendent of Equality back in 2020. The person in question never lived in California before, broke residency laws, and was very underqualified. He literally picked a self-help guy for a $180,000 a year job who knew nothing about Californian schools. The person eventually resigned, but it was not a good look on Thurmond. And that can cost him doubt on his ability to appoint people. I mean, it wasn’t Teapot Dome or anything like that, but it wasn’t a competent choice either. Along with that, he may also get some flack for how he responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“All in all, he is another interesting candidate with good and bad points. He wants momentum now too along with Kounalakis and Yee. We have three more years of this.”
More gubernatorial candidates are expected to announce early runs soon.