Newsom cruises to reelection as governor, Democrats leading races for other statewide posts

California Gov. Gavin Newsom delivers remarks after winning his second term in office
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, accompanied by his wife Jennifer Siebel Newsom and their children, delivers remarks in Sacramento after winning his second term in office on Tuesday.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

California voters on Tuesday handed Gavin Newsom a second term as governor, choosing the incumbent over Brian Dahle, an unfamiliar Republican state senator from Lassen County who struggled to compete with the Democratic political heavyweight.

The governor’s race was the first to be called after polls closed on election night, which ended with Democrats appearing poised to sweep all races for statewide office and continue a decades-long hold on constitutional positions.

“The arithmetic is just not there for Republicans,” said Steven Maviglio, a Democratic political consultant. “The numbers are so daunting from the get-go that it’s almost impossible unless you’re a superstar with a massive bank account to overcome that.”


For Newsom, the election solidifies the 55-year-old Democrat’s success at the ballot box.

After easily defeating Dahle, the socially progressive governor returns for another four years to lead a state on the verge of becoming the fourth-largest economy in the world while simultaneously experiencing record homelessness, a dire shortage of affordable housing, and rising crime.

As he cast his ballot in downtown Sacramento on Tuesday morning, the governor pledged to continue to focus on the problems plaguing the state. He thanked California voters hours later in an election night acceptance speech with his family at his side, saying he was humbled to be elected for another four years.

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

Voters appeared ready to give Democrats another turn in other statewide contests.

In early returns, Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta had a strong edge over Republican Nathan Hochman, a defense attorney, in California’s race for top cop — a position that rose in importance and relevance after two U.S. Supreme Court decisions this summer rolled back laws on gun control and abortion access. Bonta led Wednesday morning with 57.3% of the vote to Hochman’s 42.7%.

Democrat Eleni Kounalakis also led in her bid for a second term in the race for lieutenant governor, a position that sits on a range of state boards and commissions and steps in when the governor is out of state, against Republican Angela Underwood Jacobs. Kounalakis’ performance was basically matching Newsom’s, results showed.

Voters also were favoring former Democratic state lawmaker Shirley Weber as secretary of state over Robert Bernosky, a Republican businessman.


Republican Jack Guerrero was losing to incumbent Fiona Ma in the race for state treasurer, the state’s top banker responsible for managing its finances and investments.

Democrat Ricardo Lara, a former state lawmaker, was leading over Robert Howell, the president of an electronics manufacturing company, in the race for insurance commissioner.

The early vote Tuesday indicated that the position of superintendent of public instruction will be held once again by Democratic incumbent Tony Thurmond, a former state legislator, who was beating his Republican challenger, Lance Christensen.

In perhaps the most closely watched statewide contest, Chair of the Board of Equalization Malia Cohen was leading in the race for state controller over Lanhee Chen, a Stanford educator and policy expert who ran as a moderate Republican with the hope of wooing no-party-preference voters to his side.

Tuesday ended an unusually quiet campaign from Newsom, who vigorously defended himself against the recall effort last year.

President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders all stepped up in 2021 to support Newsom with appearances on the campaign trail and in advertisements, helping the governor’s political team cast his top replacement opponent, Larry Elder, as a Trump-aligned extremist.


This time around Newsom didn’t call in any big-name political reinforcements and he seldom acknowledged his opponent. The governor ran only one television advertisement that called out Dahle’s opposition to abortion in May, days after a draft of the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade made headlines, and participated in one debate against his opponent.

A 56-year-old seed and livestock farmer, Dahle served 16 years on his local Board of Supervisors before his election to the California Assembly in 2012 and to the state Senate in 2019.

Though a seasoned politician and well-liked in Sacramento by lawmakers of both parties, Dahle faced insurmountable odds: An inability to raise enough money to spread his message and an “R” next to his name on the ballot in a state where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by nearly 2 to 1.

Newsom brought in $24.7 million in total contributions compared to the $2.5 million Dahle raised, according to a tally as of Tuesday.

Sean Clegg, Newsom’s senior political strategist, said the leak of the Roe decision created an opportunity to focus the primary campaign on the issue of abortion and draw a contrast with Dahle.

Newsom and his team changed tactics after the June 7 election and tried to generate attention on Proposition 1, a constitutional amendment to explicitly protect the right to an abortion.


“Once you’ve got a general election dance card and you don’t have a lot of swing voters in this election, then you start to look at what’s the most effective approach for my campaign to help the whole Democratic ticket in California,” Clegg said. “Prop. 1 is a turnout driver to the extent that people know it’s on the ballot.”

Led by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), Democratic lawmakers voted to place the measure on the ballot this year with the hope that it would inspire voters in their party to participate in the midterm election.

As a progressive on social issues, abortion rights is among several causes Newsom attached himself to since becoming governor.

Newsom relied on the state’s historic tax revenues to fund an expansion of Medi-Cal to cover all immigrants in 2024, more robust paid family leave, two years of free community college and free preschool for 4-year-olds, among other programs to bolster the social safety net and provide more opportunity for upward mobility to those living in poverty.

But as a longtime owner of hospitality businesses, including wineries, restaurants and a San Francisco wine shop, his record wasn’t quite as far left as his liberal image.

Newsom persuaded lawmakers to pass a series of tough climate policies and at the same time extend operations at Diablo Canyon, reversing an agreement that environmental groups pushed for six years ago to shut down California’s last remaining nuclear plant out of safety concerns.


Civil rights organizations opposed the governor’s plan to provide court-ordered treatment for unhoused Californians struggling with mental illness and addiction, arguing that housing and voluntary care is a more humane and effective method.

Tent encampments along sidewalks and under overpasses have fed a national image of California in moral decay, which the national and state GOP seized on during the recall election and Dahle blamed Newsom for on the campaign trail.

Political observers argue the outcomes of Newsom’s reelection and the recall have been foregone conclusions since no other well-known Democrat chose to challenge him in the recall. The presence of a high-profile Democratic replacement on the ballot could have given dissatisfied Democratic and independent voters a viable alternative to Newsom and an incentive to oust him.

Earning the support of 61.9% of voters made him an even more formidable candidate for reelection, scaring off any would-be challengers.

“I think he found his voice in the recall and hasn’t looked back,” Clegg said. “He’s found a different stride.”

After publicly sparring with President Trump during his first two years in office, the governor channeled his frustrations with the GOP on Republican governors, with a particular focus on Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas, after the recall election.


His second term is expected to kick off with another fight with the oil industry next month, when at Newsom’s urging, lawmakers begin a special session to consider a windfall tax on excessive profits.

“I’m a different person and I’m just winding up,” Newsom said in an interview days before the election. “And that’s just the coming attraction. If I have the privilege of doing this job for another four years, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Times staff writers Mackenzie Mays and Hannah Wiley contributed to this report.