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Gavin Newsom wins re-election in California; Democrats lead in statewide races

San Francisco Chronicle 11/9/2022 By Sophia Bollag

SACRAMENTO — California Gov. Gavin Newsom coasted to re-election Tuesday against state Sen. Brian Dahle, a Republican from Lassen County, after focusing much of his campaign on condemning his opponents on the national stage including Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas.

Newsom’s victory came as no surprise in California, where Democrats outnumber Republicans roughly 2-to-1. Across the country, Democrats braced for a possible Republican takeover in Congress, although results in many races were still too close to call Tuesday night.

Some of the candidates Newsom helped fundraise for in competitive governor races in other states lost Tuesday, including Beto O’Rourke in Texas, who lost to Abbott, and Charlie Crist in Florida, who lost to DeSantis.

In a speech in downtown Sacramento Tuesday night, Newsom contrasted his victory with those of Republicans in other states.

“We have governors that won their re-election tonight in other states tonight that are banning books, that are banning speech, that are banning abortion, and here we are in California moving in a completely different direction. That’s a deep point of pride,” Newsom said. “I bring to this second term a resolve to do more to advance that cause of freedom.”

California Secretary of State Shirley Weber, a Democrat, also won a four-year term as California’s top election official, defeating Republican Rob Bernosky. Newsom appointed Weber after he appointed former Secretary of State Alex Padilla to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Kamala Harris when she was elected vice president.

Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, Treasurer Fiona Ma, Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond all won re-election Tuesday. All four officers are Democrats who defeated Republican challengers, although the superintendent race was officially nonpartisan.

Attorney General Rob Bonta was also on track to win a four-year term as California’s top prosecutor, the position Newsom appointed him to last year.

In the race for controller, the only open statewide seat, Democrat Malia Cohen led Republican Lanhee Chen. Democrat ic Controller Betty Yee could not run again for the job because of term limits.

Some of the incumbent statewide officials weathered scandals during their first terms. Lara apologized after he broke his campaign promise to not accept donations from insurance companies trying to influence him.

Thurmond faced harsh criticism for hiring a friend who lived out of state and for allegations he created a toxic work environment at the California Department of Education. Although Thurmond says he doesn’t think all the criticism has been fair, he said he’s tried to use it to improve.

“I’ve taken that criticism, I’ve tried to sort out what’s accurate and fair and take the feedback on how I can become a better leader,” he said.

Ma is fighting a lawsuit that accuses her of sexual harassment and has faced scrutiny over her practice of sharing rooms with staff on business trips. She has denied the claims in the lawsuit, which is still proceeding in court.

After voting in downtown Sacramento on Tuesday morning, Newsom said he planned to focus on reducing housing costs and getting people off the streets in his second term.

“We’ve got to address what’s happening on the streets and sidewalks,” Newsom said. “We’ve got to address this sense of unease as it relates to what’s happening in cities and communities, as it relates to quality of life — clean up our cities, address the issue of crime, not just violent crime but property crime.”

Newsom has long promised to address housing and homelessness in California, but has struggled to make a dent in the problem.

Last week, Newsom announced he was withholding $1 billion in state homeless funding for cities and counties because they aren’t planning to get people off the streets fast enough. Newsom said the move is aimed at holding local governments accountable, but city leaders criticized his decision, saying that withholding money won’t help California solve its worsening homeless crisis.

Newsom also told reporters on Tuesday that he believes Democrats, who were bracing for a rough election night, need to be more aggressive in their messaging. He alluded to his own efforts to redefine Republican talking points about freedom and other buzzwords, including through ad buys in other states.

“We’ve been on the defense on a lot of culture issues — we’ve got to get on the offense,” Newsom said. “I’m trying to change the narrative on freedom and fairness.”

Democrats make up about 47% of registered California voters, compared with Republicans’ 24%. Democrats’ dominance in the state previously buoyed Newsom through the COVID-19 pandemic and a recall attempt.

Newsom defeated the recall in September 2021 by about the same margin as his 2018 victory that won him the governorship of California. Newsom cheered the outcome as a validation of his leadership of the nation’s most populous state.

During his re-election campaign, Newsom touted his stewardship of California’s economy, the fifth-largest in the world. He also sought to capitalize on his penchant for attracting national attention for his liberal policies.

As San Francisco mayor, he came out ahead of his party on LGBTQ rights by issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. As governor, one of his first actions was placing a moratorium on the death penalty.

In the face of a re-election battle heavily stacked in his favor, Newsom used his massive fundraising lead to spend money boosting his national profile further, even buying ads in Texas and Florida to attack the Republican governors there.

He also took aim at national Republican policies on abortion and the pandemic. He sought to co-opt their branding as the pro-freedom and pro-life party, arguing those feel-good labels actually better describe his pandemic safety and abortion-rights policies. His focus on building his national profile during the campaign stoked speculation he is gearing up to run for president, something he has vehemently denied.

Dahle, meanwhile, focused his campaign on California. The state senator, who represents a rural district that stretches from Sacramento County to the Oregon border, pledged to lower California’s high cost of living by cutting government regulations.

He attacked Newsom over homelessness and crime, arguing the governor had failed to address California’s toughest challenges.

“That’s the point of this whole election,” Dahle said last month during an interview with Sacramento NPR affiliate CapRadio. “Do you want to continue to get more of what you’ve been getting — promises with no real change?”

Sophia Bollag is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @SophiaBollag

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