California Attorney General Rob Bonta Easily Advances to November Election to Face Republican Challenger

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A fit, middle-aged Filipino man, with black hair slicked away from his head, stands at a wooden lectern inside a room, speaking toward, but beyond, the camera at his left. We see a sliver of the Seal of California at the top of the front of the lectern, and a skinny microphone neck extending from the lectern toward him. He wears a dark blue suit jacket, a white dress shirt, and a glossy powder blue tie. On a wall behind him are two paintings; the one visible behind him seems to be an oil or acrylic portrait in blues, pinks, and yellows or a man wearing a baseball cap and jacket, with a surprised or distraught look on his face. A tall man also dressed in a suit and wearing a black face mask stands at a distance in a doorway to Bonta's right; it appears to be Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Rob Bonta (right) speaks at a press conference in San Francisco on March 24, 2021, after being appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to serve as California's attorney general. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

California Attorney General Rob Bonta will face a Republican challenger in November, a matchup that Bonta and his allies had hoped for, viewing it as one that offers him the best odds of winning a full term in November.

As ballot counts came in Tuesday night, Bonta quickly took a commanding lead — with more than 50% of the votes — over his GOP challengers, Nathan Hochman, a moderate lawyer, and Eric Early, a Trump-affiliated attorney. As of Friday, Hochman had  maintained a narrow lead — of just 1.6 points — over Early for the second-place spot.

While Bonta’s place on the November ballot has always seemed inevitable, the wild card in the race has been the No. 2 spot, for which three serious right-leaning candidates fiercely competed in the primary.

Bonta’s camp viewed No Party Preference candidate Anne Marie Schubert, the Sacramento County District Attorney, as his most formidable challenger. But Schubert’s bid as an independent — embracing a mix of conservative and Democratic criminal justice policies — fell incredibly short Tuesday night, with the candidate garnering less than 8% of the vote, despite California's growing percentage of independent voters.

In a concession statement, Schubert said she hopes the next attorney general will fight "to change our laws so that violent felons are not released early from prison without rehabilitation and that serial criminals will once again be held accountable."


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"Law and order was on the ballot," Cristine Soto DeBerry, executive director of the Prosecutors Alliance, a progressive criminal justice group in California, told KQED's Political Breakdown. "Schubert ran as that candidate. She said, 'I'm going to end the chaos in San Francisco and Los Angeles. I will take over those offices.' Her entire platform was a critique of those two cities. She didn't break double digits."

Early was Bonta’s biggest hope: An anti-abortion, pro-Trump Los Angeles attorney who subscribes to the unfounded belief that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Unions backing Bonta’s campaign poured more than $2 million into an independent committee that spent most of its cash running ads propping up Early — viewing him as an opponent who would be easy to steamroll in a deep blue state.

Meanwhile, Early raised only a little over $300,000 for his campaign — a sum that pales in comparison to the more than $7 million Bonta has amassed over the past year, $3 million of which he still has on hand.

But Hochman, a former U.S. attorney and defense lawyer who received the state GOP party endorsement, was leading Early Tuesday night. He's campaigned as a middle-of-the-road, reasonable Republican and is hoping his more moderate positions, including support for greater police funding and more investment in social services, can eat into Bonta’s strong Democratic base.

Hochman has already raised more than $2 million.

Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Bonta attorney general last year, after Xavier Becerra vacated the post to lead the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. As a longtime Oakland assemblymember, Bonta embraced the criminal justice reforms backed by voters over the past two decades, and even authored a bail reform law, which was ultimately overturned by voters in 2020.

Bonta has the backing of the Democratic Party and virtually every elected Democratic official in California. But in a year where voters are anxious about crime rates and Democrats have been on the defensive on criminal justice reform, he enters the general election campaign more vulnerable than he’d like. That’s one of the reasons his allies worked so hard to box Schubert out of the race, viewing her No Party Preference affiliation as a threat in the general election, in a state where there are nearly as many No Party Preference voters (5 million) as Republicans (5.2 million).

"I think the statewide results are really encouraging," Soto DeBerry said. "In San Francisco, on the same ballot where people said we're going to make a change in our district attorney, they voted overwhelmingly for the attorney general that has espoused very strong reform credentials."

And with the contest now set between the two major political parties, Bonta is likely breathing easier, as there are more than 10 million registered Democrats in the state, and no Republican has won statewide office since 2006.