California needs to take its next governor’s race more seriously.
2014’s contest between Jerry Brown and Neel Kashkari felt like an experiment in voter suppression—no one followed it, and few bothered to cast ballots. 2010’s race turned on meaningless issues around the wealth and housekeeper of Republican Meg Whitman.
In 2018, the stakes are much higher. We’re not only picking a governor to tackle the state’s governance challenge and battle an authoritarian regime in Washington.
We might be picking a president.
It’s been so long since we had a serious presidential candidate from California that it’s easy to forget the advantages that a California candidate can have. But those advantages are significant – and they are growing bigger for Democrats.
Nationally, the Democratic party has failed to produce politicians who can make credible runs for the presidency. (Which is how you end up giving your nomination a deeply unpopular former First Lady with poor political instincts and an aversion to telling the truth – but that’s all water under the bridge). And the party hasn’t been winning governorships or legislative races in most of the U.S. during the Obama era.
Indeed, the party has shrunk pretty much everywhere but in three states: New York, Massachusetts, and California.
Which means that the Democratic bench is pretty much confined to those three states. Right now, there’s no Californians who looks like a potential presidential contender.
But that should change by 2018.
First off, if Kamala Harris turns out to be a very strong U.S. senator, she could enter the conversation despite her inexperience – because, well, there aren’t that many Democratic contenders.
Second, we’ll elect a governor in 2018, and that person will also certainly be a Democrat, who, with the White House in Republican hands, will become the top Democratic politician in America.
Don’t laugh. Familiarity breeds contempt, and so the idea of Gavin Newsom or Antonio Villaraigosa or John Chiang or Tom Steyer or Delaine Eastin as a presidential candidate may seem a bit much for those of us who watch them up close.
But the winner of that contest – if he or she runs a strong race – will have real appeal nationally. And it’s not too far a path from there to the White House.
After all, the Democrats won’t have many other options – at least options from this century (yeah, I’m looking at you, Joe Biden). And it’s a safe bet that the Republicans will be damaged by two years of the madness of King Trump. And if Trump is the candidate in 2020, he’s all but certain to be deeply vulnerable.
So keep this question in mind as you ponder the candidates in the 2018 governor’s race: which one seems the most presidential?