Republican wins spot in California governor race, dashing Democratic shutout hopes, NBC projects

WASHINGTON — A Republican businessman will face Democrat Gavin Newsom in the California governor’s race in November after a weak showing in the primary Tuesday by former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, according to an NBC News projection.


The outcome is a relief for beleaguered the California GOP, which risked not landing any candidates on the top of the ticket for the general election this fall.


Under California’s unusual “jungle primary” system, the two candidates with the most votes from either party advance to November.

But Republican John Cox won a spot on the gubernatorial ballot, where he’ll face off against Newsom, the lieutenant governor, NBC News projects. Villaraigosa was headed for third place, an embarrassing finish for a well-known Democrat who vastly outspent Cox.

Image: California Gubernatorial Candidate Gavin Newsom Votes In State's Primary
Democratic California gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, from right, speaks with a customer at Rustic Bakery in Larkspur, California on June 5, 2018.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

In other races, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is on track to win by far the most votes in her quest for a fifth term, while it remains to be seen if the second spot to take her on in November will go to a more liberal rival, former state Senate president Kevin de Leon, or one of several largely unknown Republicans.

Meanwhile in New Jersey, Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, who recently escaped conviction on federal corruption charged in a mistrial, showed signs of weakness Tuesday as he underperformed expectations against a largely unknown primary rival.


In the general election, Menendez will be challenged by Republican Bob Hugin, the former CEO of a pharmaceutical company, who has already spent $7.5 million of his own money on the race, including on ads attacking Menendez on ethical issues.


In California, Democrats have been spending millions of dollars to try to prevent their own candidates from getting “locked out” by two Republicans in a handful of key Southern California congressional districts.

Not competing in the fall would be bad news for Democrats since the Orange County seats represent some of the party’s best opportunities to flip seats currently held by Republicans anywhere in the country in their push to take control of the House.

Image: California Election Vote
From left, Election workers Heidi McGettigan, Margaret Wohlford, and David Jensen, unload a bag of ballots brought in a from a polling precinct to the Sacramento County Registrar of Voters office, in Sacramento, Calif on June 5, 2018.Rich Pedroncelli / AP

Reformers hoped the novel primary system, which was first used six years ago, would help elect more moderate leaders, since candidates could draw from voters in both parties. But many California politicos now say the experiment has failed, creating a confusing mess for voters in which candidates sometimes spend money to boost certain opponents in attempts to game the system.


Since California accepts absentee ballots that arrive after Election Day, as long as they were postmarked on time, it may take days to count votes in tight contests.

Alabama, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota all held their own primaries Tuesday — the biggest voting day until the Nov. 6 election.

Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., was forced into a GOP runoff with an opponent who has accused her of “(turning) her back on President Trump when he needed her the most.” Roby withdrew her support for Trump after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape during the 2016 presidential campaign.

She’ll will face former Democratic Rep. Bobby Bright, who lost the seat to Roby, but has switch parties and is now trying to reclaim office as a Trump loyalist.


And in Iowa, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., was dealt a blow in the key presidential battleground state when his former state director finished in a distant third place in a Des Moines-area congressional primary. Sanders cut an ad for Pete D’Alessandro and stumped for the Democrat, who also had the backing of the Sanders spinoff group Our Revolution.

In a different district in Iowa, Democrats nominated Abby Finkenauer, who would be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress if she wins the GOP-held seat in November, when it is considered a top pickup opportunity for her party.

In Montana, Sen. Jon Tester won the Democratic nomination, but it was too early to call the race to be his potential GOP opponent.

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