California gubernatorial candidates John Cox and Gavin Newsom barnstormed California on their respective tour buses Thursday, stopping to shake hands and pose for selfies with voters across the state in the final days of the race.
As he greeted reporters in Sacramento Thursday morning, Cox said that voters are finally making up their minds and “finding out who I am and what I’m about.” The San Diego-area businessman said he thinks polls are tightening as he tries to overtake rival Newsom, the race’s consistent front-runner.
“We’re going to win because people in this state really want change,” the Republican candidate said before hopping on a large bus wrapped with his “Help is on the Way” campaign slogan.
Hundreds of miles away, Newsom visited Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles at the tail end of the lunchtime crush Thursday afternoon. He waded into the crowd for a cup of coffee, flashed a smile and was hustled away to a taco stand by former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, former labor leader and Democratic state Senate candidate Maria Elena Durazo and Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles).
Teresa McDonald, 60, cornered the candidate as he and his entourage passed by.
“We talked about the importance of voting, and I did let him know I was going to vote for him,” she said.
McDonald, who said she was homeless on L.A.’s skid row for years before recently landing an apartment, believes the next governor needs to find compassionate ways to address the growing numbers of Californians living on the streets.
“Homeless has no age … and everyone is homeless for a reason,” she said.
Newsom kicked off the bus tour — his third of the campaign — on Tuesday in San Francisco, where he served as mayor for two terms. Then he drove down the spine of the Central Valley to Bakersfield and back up to Sacramento on Wednesday to hand out candy at a daycare center.
Throughout the campaign, Newsom has insisted that he’s not taking the election for granted, though all recent public opinions polls show he has a solid lead among likely voters. That advantage isn’t a surprise — Democrats hold nearly a 20% voter registration edge over Republicans in the state.
“You sleep with one eye open this late in the campaign. My staff wishes I would enjoy this moment more. I’m anxious, always, because there’s a lot at stake. I don’t want to experience what we experienced in 2016,” Newsom said.
That year, California voters passed two ballot measures Newsom championed to legalize recreational marijuana use in California and to implement stricter gun control laws. But the celebration quickly deflated for Democrats when Donald Trump won the presidential election that same night.
For his part, Cox said Thursday he is expecting a surprise twist in the election.
“California has had surprises in the past and I think they are going to have another surprise this time,” Cox told reporters during a stop in Vallejo to visit a charter school campus.
Though polls show the Republican trailing Newsom, Cox said they ”are only good as who you ask and how you ask it.”
As the two candidates courted voters, they didn’t deviate from their campaign scripts. Newsom remained upbeat while he discussed his plans to restore the “California Dream” and address the most pressing problems facing the state, including affordable housing and lack of economic opportunity.
In contrast, Cox struck a more somber tone when he met with high school students at Mare Island Technology Academy, warning them that they may leave college with a “mountain of debt,” and suggesting that rising housing costs could keep them from buying a home California.
“Have a lot of you heard about the housing situation? Have your parents talked about that?” Cox asked. “Your ability to actually to stay in California [depends] on being able to afford a house. That’s the struggle your parents are probably facing right now. That’s one of the reasons that I’m running for governor.”
He also met with teachers at the charter school, telling them they should be paid like rock stars and baseball players.
Cox said he supports expanding the number of charter schools in the state, but he gave few details about how he’d pay for them. He said that he’d save money on housing costs by cutting government red tape and freeing up money for people to spend on day care and education.
This weekend, Cox and Newsom will campaign with California congressional candidates facing tight elections as Democrats fight for control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Cox on Thursday told reporters that it’s important for Republicans to maintain control of the House. Meanwhile, Newsom plans to join forces with Democratic U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris to rally Southern California voters, with the gubernatorial candidate saying the fate of both California and the nation are at stake.
“I don’t want to experience the same feeling of winning an election for governor and not taking back the House of Representatives,” Newsom said in Pleasanton onTuesday.
Times Staff Writer Melanie Mason contributed to this report.