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Trump is a hot topic in California's race for governor, but not in a good way

Donald Trump at the California Republican Party convention in Burlingame in April. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Donald Trump at the California Republican Party convention in Burlingame in April. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

One of the most talked about politicians in California’s 2018 governor’s campaign isn’t even running.

Rarely does a day go by when Republican President Donald Trump isn’t used as a political piñata by one of the top Democrats in the race.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom took some jabs Tuesday when he addressed the California Legislature before Gov. Jerry Brown's annual State of the State speech. Newsom mocked the Trump administration for its reliance on “alternative facts" — a phrase used by a Trump senior advisor when defending inflated inauguration crowd figures — and took a subtle shot at the president’s comment about “American carnage” in the nation’s cities.

On Monday, state Treasurer John Chiang criticized Trump for doubting the scientific evidence of climate change.

“President Trump may believe global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive,’’ Chiang said. “We Californians stand with the scientific community and the 195 nations that have declared climate change is an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet.”

When Antonio Villaraigosa announced his bid for governor right after the general election, the former Los Angeles mayor was sure to include a dig at Trump.

“I’m running because I think the answer to the divisiveness we see in the country right now is unity, and the answer to fear is hope,” he said.

Last May, Villaraigosa compared Trump to segregationist George Wallace.

California's former superintendent of public instruction, Delaine Eastin, last week ripped Trump for nominating Betsy DeVos for Education secretary. Eastin said DeVos, a charter school advocate and Republican fundraiser from Michigan, was a threat to public education in the country.

In speeches, in fundraising emails, in tweets and Facebook posts, the Democrats have liberally excoriated Trump while largely avoiding lobbing any criticism at one another. It's a safe and easy tactic that appeals to a sizeable majority of voters in left-leaning California.

In the November election, Trump was trounced by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in California — losing to her by more than 4.2 million votes.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a Republican being urged to run by fellow party members, has also rebuked Trump in the past.

In May, Faulconer said he rejected Trump's “divisive rhetoric” about women and immigrants. Faulconer was absent at Trump’s inauguration and skipped a Trump campaign rally in San Diego last spring.

For any Republican to have a legitimate shot in the governor's race, or any statewide election, the more distance they put between themselves and Trump the better, said GOP political consultant Rob Stutzman.

"It's important that you’re not on the record gushing about Trump," Stutzman said.

3:30 p.m.: This story was updated to correct the title of Delaine Eastin. She is a former state superintendent of public instruction.

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