Going by the metrics, John Chiang may be the strongest candidate to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown in 2018 or U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer in 2016.
You’d never know it by the way the media have zeroed in on Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Kamala Harris — even before the Nov. 4 election in which both were re-elected. Chiang, the outgoing state controller, was elected as state treasurer. All are Democrats.
As far back as 2011, reporters have been setting the stage for the inevitable “Kamala vs. Gavin” showdown.
“Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris: the California Democratic Party’s future?” the L.A. Times asked in 2011. “The party’s top officeholders — Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer — are all in their 70s. Newsom and Harris top the list of up-and-comers.”
The Friday following this month’s election, the San Francisco Chronicle asked, “Newsom vs. Harris: Who got bigger bang for the buck?” In his recent speculation on the next round of Democratic name brands, Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton mentioned Chiang as an afterthought. That was better than his colleague Cathleen Decker, who didn’t bother to include Chiang in her list of Democrats in waiting.
Consultants, too, are billing the Kamala vs. Gavin show.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that they’re on a collision course for running for governor in 2018,” Democratic consultant Garry South told the Times earlier this year.
Yet, when you look at every available metric, Chiang has outperformed both Newsom and Harris: 2014 margin of victory, lifetime votes, number of successful campaigns, cash on hand and party support.
2014 Margin of victory: Chiang closest to Brown’s vote total
There are still roughly half-a-million late absentee and provisional ballots left to count, but Chiang is on pace to deliver the best performance of any statewide candidate after Brown.
Despite being further down the ballot than Newsom, Chiang earned the most votes after Brown and had the widest margin of victory after Brown. He’ll be the second candidate in the state to hit 4 million votes in Nov. 2014.
Chiang performed 2.8 percentage points better than Harris, and 3.4 percentage points better than Newsom. His margin of victory – 17.2 percentage points – was closer to Brown’s 19.4 percentage points than it was to Harris’ or Newsom’s figures.
If you were to classify winning Democrats, you’d put Brown and Chiang in Tier 1 and Harris and Newsom in Tier 2.
In the past 16 years, Chiang has appeared on the ballot 10 times, winning every race. That’s one better than Newsom and three more campaigns than Harris. He also has run for seats with more voters than Newsom or Harris. His lifetime vote total, 21.3 million, is nearly double that for Harris.
Money: Chiang raised most in 2014, most cash on hand
Statewide campaigns don’t come cheap, and Chiang steadily has improved his fundraising. In 2014, Chiang raised more money than either Harris or Newsom. And not by small margins either. According to the state campaign finance records as of October 18, Chiang’s $1.9 million raised in 2014 was $800,384 more than Harris and $382,510.54 more than Newsom.
Chiang has more available cash on hand, $3.19 million, compared to $2.8 million for Newsom and $2.39 million for Harris. One note on this figure: It’s possible Harris spent down her state campaign account because she can’t directly transfer those funds to an account for a potential federal campaign. But that should be dismissed.
State candidates can get creative with how to spend, transfer and shift resources between state and federal accounts. She could, for example, refund checks to donors, and then solicit those donors to support her new federal campaign account.
And remember, Chiang outperformed Harris on Election Night 2014, meaning she spent extra money to boost her name ID, but still couldn’t match Chiang’s result. Chiang spent less, has more in the bank and performed better.
Who shares their wealth and is a team player? Again, on paper, it’s Chiang, who outperforms both Harris and Newsom. In 2014, Chiang donated $55,000 from his campaign committee to Democratic Party committees. That’s substantially more than the $11,500 donated by Harris or $3,790 by Newsom.
All three politicians pledged to raise or give the same amount to the Democratic Party this cycle.
Newspaper Endorsements: Chiang’s Clean Sweep
Scott Lay, the publisher of The Nooner and AroundtheCapitol.com, kept tabs on newspaper endorsements in the Nov. 2014 general election. Of the three Democrats, Chiang was the only one to achieve a clean sweep of newspaper endorsements throughout the state. The Orange County Register declined to endorse in both the lieutenant governor’s and attorney general’s race. The UT San Diego backed Republican Ron Nehring over Newsom and declined to endorse in the attorney general’s race.
Both of those newspapers lean to the right, which makes Chiang’s endorsements all the more impressive and useful in a Top 2 primary. The only other candidate to achieve the feat was reformer Marshall Tuck’s bid for state superintendent of schools.
Two final things. Chiang has a potential geographic edge as the lone Southern Californian. Both Harris and Newsom hail from San Francisco.
And when it comes to picking governors, sometimes voters have a funny habit of ignoring the early favorites. Just ask Gov. Al Checchi.
Cross-posted at CalWatchDog. http://calwatchdog.com/2014/11/19/does-chiang-top-field-of-dem-hopefuls/