Gavin Newsom is an overwhelming favorite to win the governorship for one big reason:

He’s ahead.

When was the last time that a challenger, after trailing significantly, caught and passed a frontrunner in a major statewide California political race?

I ask that question because I’m not quite sure of the answer. The pattern for more than a decade has been for the frontrunner, who is usually the early entrant to the race, to get a lead and win.

That’s on the rare occasions when there’s been real competition in major statewide races.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was not the clear frontrunner at the beginning of the recall. He was in a jumble of people, but he didn’t trail.

Going back, the last time an underdog rose and won might have been in the 2002 gubernatorial primary, when William Simon caught and passed Richard Riordan.

At this point, there are probably only two people who could deny Newsom the governorship (other than Newsom himself, through some major screw-up) – Antonio Villaraigosa and John Chiang. Both are strong politicians and proven vote getters.

But do they have the closing speed to overtake the horse ahead of them?