President Trump threw the California’s governor’s race into a tizzy today with his surprise endorsement of Republican San Diego businessman John Cox—despite the fact that Cox acknowledges he didn’t vote for Trump. The announcement undercut Trump-boosting GOP candidate Travis Allen—and complicated Democratic contender Antonio Villaraigosa’s hopes to emerge a victory in California’s top-two primary.
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Republican Assemblyman Travis Allen has raised nearly $1.2 million in his race to become California’s next governor and sold himself as a Forever-Trumper who will “make California great again.”
With a 273-character, President Donald Trump may have just dashed Allen’s hopes—and complicated the path Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa has to become one of two finalists who will advance from the June primary onto the November ballot.
California finally deserves a great Governor, one who understands borders, crime and lowering taxes. John Cox is the man – he’ll be the best Governor you’ve ever had. I fully endorse John Cox for Governor and look forward to working with him to Make California Great Again!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2018
President Trump’s endorsement of San Diego-area businessman John Cox is designed to help unite a fractured party base around a single candidate leading up to the June 5 primary, making a general election showdown with Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom much more likely. Trump and California’s congressional Republicans want to ensure that California Republicans have a top-of-the-ticket reason to turn out in November—if they don’t, it could cost the party some key congressional districts, and ultimately, hand over control of the House of Representatives to the Democrats.
Nonetheless, Republican unity wasn’t much in evidence as Allen and his conservatives backers railed against the endorsement—awarded despite the fact that Cox acknowledges he voted for a Libertarian candidate against Trump in the 2016 general election. (Cox now says he was wrong not to back Trump and praises his performance in the White House.) Speaking to reporters late Friday, Allen
Under California law, only the first and second place winners in the primary will advance to the general election ballot. Recent polls show Newsom well ahead of the rest of the pack, with Cox narrowly holding onto second place. Nearly one-in-five voters remain undecided.
At a debate earlier this month, Newsom was asked which candidate he would prefer to face in the general election. “A Republican would be ideal,” he said. It now looks a bit more likely that he’ll get his wish.
My opponent, @TheRealJohnHCox has been endorsed by his hero, Donald Trump.
More important than ever that CA stands up for our values and stands against Trump, his protégé, and their attempts to drag our state backwards.
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) May 19, 2018
Trump isn’t exactly known for rewarding people who haven’t been loyal to him, but his endorsement of Cox follows that of many Republican members of the Congress from California, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield—a Trump confidant the president refers to as “my Kevin.” Earlier this month, the California Republican Party failed to endorse either Cox or Allen at their annual convention in San Diego.
The question now is whether a presidential tweet can do what roughly 1,000 GOP delegates couldn’t. Despite low approval numbers statewide, 84 percent of Republican likely voters approve of the President, according to a recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California. If the majority follow the president’s endorsement, that is almost certain to propel Cox to one of the top two spots in the primary.
“I am honored and deeply grateful to my President and I am looking forward to working with him to make California great again,” Cox said in a statement.
On a conference call tonight, Allen told his supporters to “remember what God told Gideon”—evoking the Biblical story in which God helps Israelites defeat foes not “by the hand of man” but by divine intervention. “We do not have the hand of man with us,” he said. “We have the Republican establishment firmly against us!”
The new dynamic in the race is likely to prompt Villaraigosa, the former mayor of Los Angeles, and his backers develop a counter-strategy to undercut Cox. Thus far Villaraigosa has raised over $10 million in campaign dollars—but his mega-wealthy donors like Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and Los Angeles developer Eli Broad have poured nearly $20 million to support his quest for a top-two spot.
Treasurer John Chiang, the former superintendent of public instruction, Delaine Eastin, and over 20 other candidates are all also hoping to become governor.
Many Allen supporters, including a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, took to Twitter to vent:
Learn more about John Cox in our CALmatters voter guide. Here’s a glimpse: