Five of the major candidates for governor participated in what organizers called the first-ever Asian-Pacific Islander gubernatorial debate on Friday night.
State Treasurer John Chiang, whose parents immigrated from Taiwan, pitched himself as the strongest advocate for the Asian community.
"We have a profound opportunity to send a powerful signal to those in Sacramento that the Asian Americans count," Chiang said.
Chiang has been trailing in recent polls. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has a wide lead over competitors, according to the latest surveys. Newsom was invited to the debate but declined to attend. The organizers left an empty lectern on stage to underscore his absence.
His closest Democratic rival, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, chided Newsom for failing to show up and praised the other candidates who did.
"We've been on the campaign trail for a very long time. We've had our debates and our differences. But the fact that you show up says something, it says that you care," Villaraigosa said.
Newsom's campaign says Newsom has, so far, participated in eight debates. He will participate in the next debate featuring all of the major candidates on May 8 in Northern California.
Voters will narrow the field for governor in the June 5 primary election. The top two voter-getters, regardless of party, will advance to the runoff in November.