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2018 election Governor's race

Is John Chiang the 'undervalued stock' in California's governor’s race?

 (Invision / Associated Press)
(Invision / Associated Press)

John Chiang’s campaign for California governor may be gaining some steam.

Campaign finance reports released last week showed that Chiang, California’s treasurer, raised $4.2 million in 2016, almost matching the money raked in that year by Democratic rival Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

On Tuesday, Chiang snagged the early endorsement of Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount). Rendon may not be a household name in California, but the speaker is one of the most powerful and influential politicians in the state.

“It makes John Chiang the candidate to watch in the race. Between an endorsement like this and the fundraising string that John Chiang has shown in the campaign, it’s clear that this is at least a two-person race — it’s probably going to be a three- or four-person race,” said Bay Area Democratic political consultant Katie Merrill. “There is no clear front-runner now.”

Newsom, who is also a former mayor of San Francisco, had seized the mantle of front-runner in January 2015, almost four years before the 2018 general election, when he was the first major candidate to declare he was running to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown. Newsom also leads the field in overall fundraising, and in December landed his first major endorsement in the race – the California Nurses Assn., a strong and very vocal backer of Bernie Sanders' high-voltage presidential bid.

Newsom started getting company in May , when Chiang jumped into the race. Democrat Delaine Eastin, a former California superintendent of public instruction, announced she was running in early November. And less than two weeks later, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa launched his campaign for governor.

Villaraigosa quickly showed his political strength by raising $2.7 million in less than two months. A spokeswoman for the Villaraigosa campaign said it plans to release a list of endorsements next month.

Dan Schnur, a professor at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication, pointed out that both Newsom and Villaraigosa are well known statewide and became top contenders as soon as they entered the race. That was less true for Chiang, despite winning three statewide elections, one for treasurer and two earlier races for controller.

“Even though Chiang has had a lower profile than Newsom and Villaraigosa, his fundraising and endorsements like this make him an even bet in the field,” Schnur said. “He’s the undervalued stock in the governor’s race.”

Endorsements rarely are major factors in swaying voters in campaigns, short of receiving a nod from the president or the state party, but they do give credibility to candidates and can be a catalyst for fundraising.

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