Republican businessman John Cox, who spent the lead-up to Tuesday's primary touting President Trump's endorsement and railing against California's sanctuary city law, indicated Wednesday that he'll at least tweak his message as he heads to a November gubernatorial matchup against Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Cox will need to woo more centrist voters to have any chance of competing against Newsom in a state where Republicans are now outnumbered by no party preference voters. But in an interview with KQED, Cox walked a fine line between keeping Trump close and turning his attention to his Democratic opponent, the clear favorite in the race for governor.
"We are going to be talking about issues. We are going to have a substantive debate," Cox said. "Gavin Newsom is going to make this about President Trump -- well, if he wants to do that, he ought to quit the governor's race and run for president."
Newsom has repeatedly sworn in recent months that he will not be running for president in 2020. For his part, the lieutenant governor said Wednesday at San Francisco's Ferry Building that he, too, hopes the race will focus on policy differences, not personality or style.
"I like John ... I think he's a good guy and I'm not going to run a campaign that's scorched earth. I don't intend to," Newsom said. "I just honestly think this is a great opportunity to ... to contrast visions. And I just think on policy there's so much there that I hope we don't get into a process and personality because I don't think we need to. And I don't think he feels differently than that."
Newsom noted one big policy difference: Cox's role in a Republican-led effort to repeal a $52 billion gas tax and vehicle registration fee hike approved by lawmakers last year, money being spent to fix California's crumbling roads. On issues like that, Newsom said, he's eager to debate his Republican opponent.
"It's the right thing to do," Newsom said of the gas tax. "You know it's $5 billion a year. It's one of the biggest complaints I get is infrastructure and the state roads and bridges that are falling apart. And if we want to repeal it, then it's going to cost our infrastructure."
The gas tax repeal was just one difference in a long list Cox rattled off as priorities he plans to focus on as he continues to introduce himself to California voters in the coming months. They included: improving schools; fixing roads without the gas tax; and tackling the state's housing shortage and affordability crisis by eliminating regulations.
He said Newsom's promises to expand government programs -- like universal preschool and single-payer health care -- would make California more like Venezuela, which has been plagued by food shortages and other crisis.
"Venezuela is the classic case of politicians who want to promise everything to everybody," Cox said, insisting that the comparison isn't hyperbolic. "It's one of the wealthiest countries in the world ... and you know what, there's no food on the shelves. A government that got into power by promising to be all things to all people. Well, you know what, that's exactly what Gavin Newsom is talking about."
Cox didn't back away from one other key issue dividing Democrats and Republicans: California's sanctuary state law, which prohibits local law enforcement from cooperating with immigration officials in many instances. Newsom supports the law, while Cox has been railing against it for months, saying it protects dangerous gang members.
Newsom said he welcomes that debate, too.
"I mean, we can go down that rabbit hole, "Newsom said. "I think it sounds like we're going to, because I've been listening to a little bit of what he had to say on Fox News."