California's next governor: Who's running, who's on the fence, and who's already out

Welcome to your guide to the 2018 California governor’s race. The general election is less than a year away. Campaigning is underway, political consultants are doling out advice and pundits are handicapping favorites and wild cards.

Here are the players to keep an eye on:

Gavin Newsom

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

Top jobs: California’s lieutenant governor since 2011. Mayor of San Francisco for two terms, from 2004 to 2011.

Biggest splash: Newsom, a Democrat, created a national firestorm as San Francisco mayor in 2004 when he ordered the city to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

Baggage: While mayor, he had an affair with his campaign manager's wife.

Particulars: Newsom, 50, lives in Marin County with his wife and four children. He is a graduate of Santa Clara University.

He launched his campaign for governor in February 2015.

Since announcing his bid, Newsom proposed a statewide initiative to toughen California gun laws and threw his support behind another measure to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Both initiatives were passed by state voters in the 2016 general election.

Newsom ran for governor in the 2010 election but dropped out of the race after the entry of Democratic rival Jerry Brown, who went on to win. He ran for the lower-profile lieutenant governor's office instead and is now serving his second term.

Newsom gained national attention as mayor of San Francisco in 2004 when he directed the city to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. That was a catalyst for a nationwide political wrangle over the issue that ended when the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the right of gays to marry in 2015.

Status: He's running.

John Chiang

State Treasurer John Chiang.
State Treasurer John Chiang. Irfan Kahn / Los Angeles Times

Top jobs: Elected state treasurer in 2014 after two terms as state controller.

Biggest splash: Docked state legislators' pay for failing to pass a balanced budget on time.

Family tragedy: Chiang’s sister, Joyce, a government lawyer in Washington, was murdered in 1999.

Particulars: Chiang, 55, lives in Torrance. He graduated from the University of South Florida and Georgetown University Law Center. He is divorced.

Chiang has been elected to statewide office three times: twice as controller and once as treasurer in 2014.

The eldest son of Taiwanese immigrants, Chiang grew up in Chicago and New York and moved west after earning his law degree. He worked for then-state Controller Gray Davis and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer. In 1998, he won a seat on the state Board of Equalization, which oversees the collection of tens of billions of dollars in annual revenue. It was his first time in elected office.

As controller, Chiang made headlines in 2011 when he decided to withhold state lawmakers' pay after they failed to produce a balanced spending plan by the June 15 deadline.

Two years earlier, Chiang also made news by refusing an order by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to furlough state workers three days a month amid the state budget crisis. The courts ultimately overruled Chiang, but his action made him a hero to organized labor.

Status: He's running.


Jan. 28, 11:23 a.m.: This article states that state Treasurer John Chiang is divorced. Chiang is in the midst of a divorce proceeding and is separated from his wife.

Antonio Villaraigosa

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

Top jobs: Los Angeles mayor for two terms, from 2005 to 2013. Speaker of the state Assembly from 1998 to 2000.

Making history: Elected as L.A.’s first Latino mayor since 1872.

Baggage: While mayor, he had an extramarital affair with a local television reporter.

Particulars: Villaraigosa, 65, lives in Los Angeles. He is married to his second wife, has four children and is a UCLA graduate.

When he announced his bid for governor, Villaraigosa said the focus for his campaign would be education, poverty and Californians left behind in the “new economy.”

Villaraigosa, a Democrat, served as mayor of Los Angeles for eight years. During his tenure, the city struggled to cope with plummeting revenues amid the nation’s economic downturn. He wrestled for concessions from public employee unions that were necessary, in part, because of raises that Villaraigosa had approved before the recession hit.

Villaraigosa successfully led the campaign for Measure R, a $35-billion transportation package passed by voters in 2008 that imposed a countywide half-cent sales tax. The measure is credited with reshaping the region's notoriously inefficient transit system. Under his watch, the city also hired hundreds of new police officers and violent crime plummeted.

He considered a run for governor in 2010, as well as a U.S. Senate bid after Barbara Boxer announced her retirement. He eventually decided against both.

Delaine Eastin

Delaine Eastin

Delaine Eastin

Delaine Eastin for Governor campaign

Top jobs: California superintendent of public instruction from 1995 to 2003. She served in the Assembly from 1986 to 1994, including as chairwoman of the Education Committee.

Biggest splash: The only woman elected as California superintendent of public instruction.

Particulars: Eastin, 70, lives in Davis. She earned a bachelor’s degree at UC Davis and a master’s degree at UC Santa Barbara. She is a Democrat.

Eastin began her career in politics as councilwoman in Union City on the east side of the San Francisco Bay and later served two terms as the state’s superintendent of public instruction. During her tenure, she was a vocal advocate for the state's class-size reduction law.

Eastin has been out of elected office since 2003. She is chairwoman of the board of Educate Our State, a nonprofit organization that advocates for California schools. She is also chairwoman of ClosetheGapCA, a political group that focused on electing more women to the Legislature in 2016.

Eastin said she believes that public school funding is no longer a top priority among politicians in Sacramento. She criticized them for failing to provide additional money for preschool and failing to adopt full-day kindergarten.

John Cox

John Cox, a candidate for California governor.
John Cox Provided by John Cox

Top jobs: Attorney and certified public accountant in Chicago.

Particulars: Cox, 49, lives in Rancho Santa Fe and is married with four children. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago and earned a law degree at Chicago Kent College at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Cox, a Rancho Santa Fe venture capitalist, announced his gubernatorial bid in early March of 2017. Cox already has contributed $3 million of his own money to fund his campaign.

Cox did not vote for President Trump in the 2016 election but now says he backs the president 100%.

Cox also is pushing a proposed ballot initiative to overhaul Sacramento by establishing a “neighborhood legislature,” which would add 12,000 “citizen legislators” elected in neighborhoods to the 80 Assembly members and 40 senators who currently make up the California Legislature. To pass, legislation would require approval from all of those representatives. This more-representative Legislature will help end the influence of money in Sacramento, he said.

“This campaign is going to be about the neighborhood legislature,” he said, “to take our government back from the funders, the cronies and the corrupt.”

Travis Allen

FILE - In this Aug. 18, 2016 f
Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

Top jobs: Three-term Republican assemblyman from Orange County, first elected in 2012.

Biggest controversy: Widely criticized for claiming that a recent California law would “legalize” child prostitution.

Particulars: Allen, 44, lives in Huntington Beach with his wife, Arielle, and their 8-year-old daughter. He is a graduate of Cal State Long Beach.

As a member of the California Legislature’s Republican minority, Allen has earned a reputation as an outspoken conservative who invites controversy. Allen proudly boasts of voting for Trump in 2016.

He came under fire in December after writing an opinion article in the Washington Examiner with the headline “California Democrats legalize childhood prostitution” — an allegation that created a national stir. Travis was referring to a new law that decriminalized prostitution for minors, allowing law enforcement officers to treat minors as victims of sex trafficking rather than offenders.

Several news outlets declared Allen’s allegation an outright falsehood.

In May, Allen launched a drive for a ballot measure to repeal new gas taxes and vehicle fees, which polls show are unpopular with Californians. The increases, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in April, would raise $5.2 billion annually for road repairs and mass transit.

When Allen’s ballot measure failed to qualify, he joined a separate effort campaigning for a similar ballot measure.

Allen grew up in Chula Vista, where his father worked as an attorney and his mother served on the school board. Allen, an avid surfer, earned a degree in economics at Cal State Long Beach. He worked as a financial advisor for A.G. Edwards & Sons before launching his own firm.

Allen said he decided to run for the Assembly after watching friends, family members and clients move out of California because of rising taxes and the declining business climate he said was caused by Democratic policies.

Doug Ose

Doug Ose
Doug Ose. Rich Pedroncelli / AP

Top jobs: Represented the Sacramento area in Congress from 1999 to 2005.

Biggest splash: Made good on a pledge when he first ran to serve only three terms in Congress but did run again in 2008 and 2014 and lost both times.

Trump ties: Ose was a major supporter of Republican candidate Donald Trump and served as a Trump delegate at the Republican National Convention in 2016.

Particulars: Ose, 62, lives in Sacramento with his wife, and has two adult daughters. He graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in business administration.

Considered a moderate Republican during his three terms in Congress, Ose supported the effort to make permanent President George W. Bush’s tax cuts, including a reduction of the estate tax and an increase in the child tax credit for families.

Ose also authored an unsuccessful bill to add President Reagan to Mount Rushmore.

Ose left Congress in 2005.

In 2014, he tried unsuccessfully to unseat Democratic Rep. Ami Bera of Elk Grove. He also ran for Congress in 2008 to replace Republican Rep. John Doolittle, who retired amid a drawn-out FBI corruption investigation into his ties with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. But Ose lost to Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Elk Grove) in the Republican primary.

In both of those races, Ose spend millions of his own fortune, which he made as a developer in the Sacramento area.

In the 2016 presidential election, Ose was a strong supporter of Trump. Earlier in the campaign, he supported former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, making the switch after Bush withdrew.

Ose announced he was running in January 2018, saying California has been caught in a downward spiral because of failed Democratic political leadership. He said he wants to “rebuild the California dream.”

Zoltan Istvan

Zoltan Istvan.
Zoltan Istvan. Photo provided by Zoltan Istvan

Top jobs: Writer and real estate investor.

Biggest splash: Ran for president in 2016 as a Transhumanist Party candidate and rode around in a campaign bus shaped like a coffin.

Particulars: Istvan’s full name is Zoltan Istvan Gyurko. Istvan, 43, is a graduate of Columbia University with a degree in philosophy and religion. He lives in Mill Valley with his wife and two children.

Istvan announced his campaign in 2017 and said he will run as a Libertarian. He said his campaign will focus on the radical economic and lifestyle transformations being brought about by new technology and science, from the effects of driverless cars to genetic engineering.

During his run for president, Istvan campaigned on a platform that advocated for advances in science, health and technology to extend human life span and intellect. He also supports providing a state-funded “universal basic income” for all Californians.

Istvan said he was sentenced to probation in Idaho in 1993 after he was arrested for possession of marijuana. He was 18 at the time.

Steve Westly

Former state Controller Steve Westly.
Former state Controller Steve Westly. Carlos Avila Gonzalez / Associated Press

Top jobs: Former state controller and EBay executive who is now a Silicon Valley venture capitalist.

Prior run: Spent $35 million of his own money in a failed 2006 gubernatorial bid.

Baggage: Sought to help advertising start-up executive Gurbaksh Chahal during Chahal's domestic violence case.

Particulars: Westly, 61, is married and lives in Atherton. He earned bachelor's and MBA degrees from Stanford.

Westly, a Democrat who runs a venture capital firm in Menlo Park, has been eager to return to public office since he lost the 2006 Democratic primary for governor.

San Jose Inside, a politics blog, reported in April 2015 that Westly told a few dozen technology executives and others at a private gathering in Atherton that he’d made up his mind to run.

Westly is a longtime Democratic Party activist who made a fortune as an early executive at EBay Inc. He was elected state controller in 2002.

Westly has not run for public office since 2006, so reintroducing himself to the California electorate could be a difficult, expensive task.

In 2016, Ms. magazine cofounder Gloria Steinem and other women’s rights activists cautioned Westly against running for governor. They alleged Westly sought leniency for Chahal, who was accused of hitting his girlfriend 100 times. Westly was a board member at the company Chahal led.

Westly said he supported Chahal’s eventual dismissal, and that he has been a strong supporter of programs to help victims of domestic violence.

Status: May run.

Long shots

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, Democrat

California Controller Betty Yee, Democrat

Former California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, Republican

Former California Treasurer Phil Angelides, Democrat

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Democrat


U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield)

Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Republican

A number of low-profile potential candidates have also declared their intentions to run and are listed in this chart under the “governor” contest designation.

Dropped out

Announced they will not run

Follow @philwillon on Twitter for the latest news on California politics


Jan. 24: This article was updated with news of Doug Ose’s announcement. A list of those who have announced they will not run also was updated.

July 31: This article was updated with news that Rosey Grier and David Hadley have dropped out of the race.

July 5: This article was updated with news of David Hadley’s announcement.

June 22: This article was updated with news of Travis Allen’s announcement.

March 14: This article was updated with an announcement from David Hadley.

March 8: This article was updated with announcements from Zotan Istvan and John Cox, plus Eric Garcetti’s reelection as mayor of Los Angeles.

Feb. 6: This article was updated to eliminate Peter Thiel, who says he’s not running, and add John Cox.

Jan. 27: This article was updated with news from Rosey Grier and Peter Thiel.

Jan. 5: This article was updated with new details about some candidates.

Nov. 10: This article was updated with news of Antonio Villaraigosa’s announcement.

Nov. 16: This article was updated with news of Delaine Eastin’s announcement.

This article was originally published on May 17, 2016.