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Candidates for governor sprint across California as election day approaches

Candidates for California governor barnstormed the state on Tuesday, launching their final outreach to voters in the run-up to the June 5 primary.

Front-runner Gavin Newsom, who has led the polls and fundraising since entering the race more than three years ago, urged supporters gathered on the steps of San Francisco’s City Hall not to be complacent.

“Let’s get this done and take nothing for granted over the next seven days,” Newsom said before launching a bus tour that will take him to about two-dozen events over the next week.

Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa and Republican John Cox are battling it out for the second spot in the primary, and on Tuesday they courted voters within miles of each other in Fresno.

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Villaraigosa vowed that, if elected, he wouldn’t be a big-city politician who flies over the interior of the state, rarely stopping to hear voters’ concerns. He noted he had been to the Central Valley dozens of times since exploring a bid for governor.

“I’ve been here again and again and again. I need the [Central] valley to get out of the primary,” Villaraigosa told business leaders and union members at a Teamsters local headquarters.

When asked earlier in the day why Republicans in the Central Valley should vote for him over Cox, Villaraigosa gave a pointed response.

“A vote for John Cox is a vote for Gavin Newsom,” he said, effectively saying that Cox had no chance of beating Newsom in the general election.

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Cox, campaigning at the Fresno County GOP headquarters later in the day, scoffed when asked about Villaraigosa’s comment.

“A vote for me is a vote to make sure that people have better schools, they have better roads, that we don’t waste money in government, that we have a lower tax burden. A vote for me is a lower gasoline tax as well,” Cox said. “So I think Villaraigosa has it all wrong.”

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Cox, who was endorsed by President Trump in mid-May, added another $500,000 of his own money to his campaign since Saturday, bringing his total spending on his campaign to $4.9 million.

Newsom has taken heat from some liberals who argue that his campaign’s effort to boost Cox’s candidacy to ensure an easier general election could harm Democratic efforts to regain control of Congress.

He pushed back at the narrative that having a Republican at the top of the ticket on the November ballot would increase GOP voter turnout, which could help vulnerable Republican members of Congress hold onto their seats.

Newsom argued that having Democrats consolidate behind one candidate in the general election would do more to unite voters than a bitter Democrat-on-Democrat battle.

“If you have a governor’s race where you can line up the Democratic agenda and support the down-ballot ticket and unite the party, and instead of spending resources attacking one another spend those very sizable resources building a war chest … I think that’s a lot more powerful than, with all due respect, John Cox driving huge turnout,” he said. “Forgive me, I don’t see that.”

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Newsom predicted $100 million would be spent against him if he and Villaraigosa emerge as the top two winners on June 5, and said the general election contest would be so ugly it would depress voter turnout among Democrats.

“We always win when our base shows up. The reason we don’t show up is often because of the negativity and the divisiveness — and the internecine warfare,” he said.

Major GOP donor Bill Oberndorf contributed $1.5 million and philanthropist Eli Broad on Tuesday donated $1,025,000 to an independent expenditure group supporting Villaraigosa’s bid, bringing the group’s total raised to nearly $20.2 million. The group has spent most of its money boosting Villaraigosa but has also aired ads attacking Newsom.

Villaraigosa was the focus of a new negative ad in the race. State Treasurer John Chiang, another Democrat running for governor, released an ad on Tuesday criticizing Villaraigosa’s work for Herbalife and Ameriquest, arguing that the companies harmed vulnerable communities.

Mehta reported from San Francisco and Willon reported from Fresno.

Coverage of California politics »

seema.mehta@latimes.com; phil.willon@latimes.com

For the latest on California politics, follow @LATSeema and @philwillon on Twitter.

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