Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom at KQED's studios for the only scheduled governor's debate on Oct. 8, 2018. (Jeff Chiu/AP/Pool)
Updated Wednesday, 2:10 a.m.
Democratic candidate Gavin Newsom has been elected the 40th governor of California, defeating San Diego Republican challenger and businessman John Cox. The Associated Press has called the race.
"It's been a tough two years, but tonight America's biggest state is making the biggest statement in America," Newsom told supporters at an election night party in Los Angeles on Tuesday. He extolled what he saw as the virtues of California in clear contrast with the federal government on issues such as diversity, the environment, women's rights, gun control.
"California's dream has always been too big to fail and too powerful to bully," he said.
Further south, Cox tried to strike a positive tone in the face of his resounding defeat.
"I consider myself very proud that we highlighted the incredible struggle that the people of this state have had for years under the people that are running this state," Cox told his supporters in San Diego.
Cox was unable to overcome the unpopularity of President Trump, said San Jose State political science professor Melinda Jackson. During the primary, Republican John Cox ran far to the right and received Trump's endorsement. That method was successful for getting him to the general election, but Jackson said it also allowed Newsom to go after more moderate voters in November.
"He's not talking a lot about issues like single-payer health care," Jackson said. "He's talking more about California values and the California Dream and things that will perhaps appeal more to those independents that are becoming more and more the target audience for politicians running in California."
The general election was so low-key that UC San Diego political science professor Thad Kousser called it a "stealth race."
"It's hard for any Republican to win in California, but certainly one who embraced Donald Trump and many of his positions in the primary," Kousser said. "That set up these long odds for John Cox and freed Gavin Newsom to really concentrate on down-ballot races up and down the state, rather than running hard for governor."
But while the election was largely seen as an easy win for Newsom, some say voters lost in the campaign.
A general election race between Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa would have been more exciting and substantive, said Fernando Guerra, political science professor at Loyola Marymount University.
"Number one, they would have had to have had actual debates. There's no way that Newsom would have been able to avoid that," Guerra said. "The amount of money that would have poured into both sides would have been tremendous. And then we would have had a real debate about the future of this Democratic progressive regime that exists in California."
Newsom is expected to take on progressive causes while in office — issues like universal preschool and Medicare-for-all. And he'll have help from the Democratic-controlled Legislature. But the one-party rule could inflame tensions between the liberal and more moderate wings of the party.
And there's also the threat of a looming economic downturn.
"Right now our economy is strong," Melinda Jackson said. "Things are good. We've got plenty of money to try some of these new things. But I don't think anybody predicts that that's going to last forever."
Newsom will be sworn into office on Jan. 7.
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