What to Listen For in Today's KQED Forum Governor's Debate

Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox (L), and Democratic candidate Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. (Sandy Huffaker and Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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California's two gubernatorial candidates, Democrat Gavin Newsom and Republican John Cox are set to square off head-to-head for the first (and probably only) time at 10 a.m. today in a debate on KQED's Forum program.

To date, it's been a campaign waged largely at arms length, with Newsom, the front-runner in public polling, avoiding face-to-face debates and shifting some of his attention to assisting Democratic congressional candidates. He's also preferred to direct his jabs at President Donald Trump, rather than Cox.

Strictly speaking this will not be a "League of Women Voters" type of debate, with strict time limits on answers and equal time for rebuttals. In keeping with the Forum format, it will be a conversation directed by the moderator, KQED Politics and Government Senior Editor Scott Shafer.

    • Promises, promises: All candidates make promises, and these two candidates for governor are no different. Whether it's implementing single-payer health care, universal pre-K and after school programs (Newsom) or abolishing state laws like the California Environmental Quality Act and the so-called sanctuary state law (Cox), how will they explain implementing their ambitious agendas?

 

    • After Jerry's Gone, Then What?: Both Newsom and especially Cox promise to change direction from where Gov. Jerry Brown has taken the state. Newsom wants more of a course correction while Cox is looking to slam on the brakes and turn the state around. How will they describe those differences?

 

    • Health care: Newsom was able to consolidate the progressive vote in the primary, in part due to his support for a single-payer healthcare system, which is strongly supported by the California Nurses Association. Still unclear is what steps a Newsom administration would take toward achieving a single-payer system in the state. A gradual timeline could frustrate the most ardent single-payer advocates. Meanwhile, how will Cox frame his plans for healthcare given his party's staunch opposition to the Affordable Care Act?

 

    • Prop. Talk: Voters in both parties may be looking for guidance from the top of the ticket as they decide on 11 statewide ballot measures. Cox was an early backer of Proposition 6, the November ballot measure to repeal an increase in the state's gas tax, calling it a regressive tax that hurts the working class most. Newsom opposes the repeal, saying it would strip funds for road repair and transportation. The two candidates are in agreement in opposing another controversial measure, Proposition 10, which would allow for expanded rent control.

 

    • Play Well With Others?: Through their speeches, campaign ads and voter appeals for money, both Newsom and Cox have had plenty of negative things to say about each other. Will they continue to draw such personal distinctions while sitting next to each other, or will they modulate their words and criticism?

 

    • The Trump Factor: President Trump's primary endorsement of Cox helped launch the San Diego businessman into the general election. But it's no surprise given the President's unpopularity in California that the Cox campaign has largely steered the conversation away from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. In fact, Cox's campaign's insistence on sticking to California issues threw a wrench in plans for a nationally televised debate on CNN. How will Cox represent his party in a state where Republicans' share of the electorate has been steadily declining and now is only about 25 percent of registered voters (compared to 44 percent for Democrats and 27 percent for independents)?

 

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For all of this and more, tune in to KQED Forum 88.5 FM today at 10 a.m. to hear from Republican John Cox and Democrat Gavin Newsom in a discussion moderated by host Scott Shafer.