Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat running for governor of California. Photo by Max Whittaker for CALmatters.

By Raoul Lowery Contreras

California Hispanics have their best opportunity to elect a Hispanic governor since Romauldo Pacheco briefly served in 1875 as the first Hispanic state governor in U.S. History.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (21 percent in a recent poll) has largely eliminated the gap with former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (23 percent). The two Democratic candidates are now in a statistical tie. Treasurer John Chiang runs third with 9 percent.

A tie means both would be in a runoff in November. If that happens, Villaraigosa will win the governorship easily. California’s “jungle primary” means that the top two June primary vote-getters go to a November runoff regardless of party.

Here are November’s political factors:

  • In a Southern California vs. Northern California contest for votes, the advantage goes to the former Los Angeles mayor. Southern California’s ten counties have over half of all California voters.
  • In a Hispanic vs. non-Hispanic contest, the advantage again goes to the former mayor because Los Angeles is in some ways the second largest “Mexican” city in the world.
  • In a greater Los Angeles battle against the world, it’s also Villaraigosa’s advantage because there are 7.5 million-plus Hispanics in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties.
Raoul Lowery Contreras

If the current polling continues through the primary, Villaraigosa will be the next governor of California.

Also interesting is the race to replace the infamous California Republican hatchet man, Darrell Issa, who made his political name by clashing with President Barack Obama. As chairman of the House Oversight Committee, he spent thousands of man-hours and millions of dollars investigating Obama’s administration. He is also Congress’ richest member.

This 49th District race became exciting when nine-term Issa unexpectedly announced his retirement in January. The scramble to replace him has attracted 11 candidates. Issa was almost defeated in 2016 when the district overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton, winning by only 1,600 votes.

Democrats planned a colossal battle against Issa despite being less than a third of the district’s registered voters. Included among the Democratic challengers is Doug Applegate, the man who almost beat Issa in 2016; Mike Levin, a prominent lawyer with heavy union support; and Sara Jacobs, a 28-year-old former Obama Administration staffer and heiress to the Qualcomm fortune.

Republicans have three elected officials running, including Dianne Harkey of the State Board of Equalization, a minor-league elected bureaucracy. Joining Harkey is rookie San Diego County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, who was elected 16 months ago to the five-member county board after almost a million dollars was spent supporting her against the board’s only Democrat.

Rocky Chavez near the Oceanside Pier. Campaign photo

To round out the triple-team of elected Republicans running for Issa’s seat is Rocky Chavez, a retired Marine colonel, former Oceanside city councilman and three-term Assembly member. He’s currently the highest ranking Hispanic Republican in the California.

Chavez leads Harkey and Gaspar by double digits in recent polls, and appears to be set to make it through the primary and be favored for November’s election.

San Diego County already has one Hispanic congressman, South County Democrat Juan Vargas. With Chavez the frontrunner, it appears that North County residents might elect the county’s second Hispanic congressman. The Democrats who were hysterically demonstrating every week against Issa lost their “cause celebre” when Issa retired, opening the way for Chavez.

California Hispanics, including Hispanic Republicans, can make history in November. Will Texas and other states with Hispanic populations take notice?


Raoul Lowery Contreras is a political consultant and the author of “The Armenian Lobby & American Foreign Policy” and “The Mexican Border: Immigration, War and a Trillion Dollars in Trade.” His work has appeared in the New American News Service of the New York Times Syndicate.

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