Registrar of Voters office
The San Diego County Registrar of Voters office in Kearny Mesa. File photo

A record 75 percent of eligible Californians — the most in over half a century — are registered to vote in the June 5 primary. That fact speaks volumes about voter interest in the first election since Donald Trump became president. Here is a guide to the key races on the ballot in San Diego County.


With Gov. Jerry Brown termed out after eight years, Californians must choose from a field of 27 candidates. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is the frontrunner, after seemingly campaigning for the past four years. The race for second place — and a spot in the runoff — is between former Los Angeles mayor and Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa and Rancho Santa Fe resident John Cox, a newcomer to California politics.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Antonio Villaraigosa. Photo by Chris Stone

Newsom has positioned himself as the most progressive of Democrats, as befits the former mayor of San Francisco, while Villaraigosa is taking a more business-friendly approach. Newsom is for universal, state-financed healthcare; Villaraigosa thinks that’s too expensive for taxpayers.

Their competition evokes Northern vs. Southern California and San Francisco vs. Los Angeles. Of course, LA is much bigger and more diverse: 4 million people versus less than 900,000, and Villaraigosa touts his experience in this environment as well as in the state Assembly, where he was known as a bipartisan legislator.

Cox has burst on the political scene, with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich declaring him electable. Cox ran for Congress and Senate in Illinois, but lost in both cases. As the primary nears, he has focused on repealing California’s “sanctuary state” law. The California Republican Party is divided, and hasn’t issued an endorsement.

Other leading candidates are State Treasurer John Chiang, a Democrat; Huntington Beach Assemblyman Travis Allen, a Republican, and Delanie Eastin, a Democrat and former state Superintendent of Public Instruction.

State Offices

The race for governor rightly receives the most attention, but there are seven other state offices on the ballot.

With Newsom termed out and running for governor, the somewhat ceremonial position of Lieutenant Governor has attracted several well-funded candidates. State Sen. Ed Hernandez, a Democrat from Azusa is favored to win, but faces spirited challenges from two others in his party, both of whom are former U.S. ambassadors: Eleni Kounalakis (Hungary) and Jeff Bleich (Australia). Also in the mix is Republican Cole Harris, who has lots of money available but hasn’t campaigned much, and a San Diegan, attorney Cameron Gharabiklou.

California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra. Photo courtesy House Democratic Caucus

Like Newsom, the current state treasurer, John Chaing, is termed out and running for governor. The leading candidate for the office is probably Fiona Ma, a Democrat and certified public accountant whose experience includes chairing the Board of Equalization and serving as speaker pro tempore of the state Assembly. Greg Conlon, who served as president of the California Public Utilities Commission during the Pete Wilson administration in the 1990s and calls himself the “voice of experience,” is the leading Republican on the ballot. Also getting noticed is Vivek Viswanathan, a 31-year-old former advisor to Gov. Brown and Hillary Clinton.

The race for Insurance Commissioner pits state Sen. Ricardo Lara from Bell Gardens against Republican Steve Poizner, who held the post eight years ago, and Hillary Clinton fundraiser Asif Mahmood. Lara is endorsed by the California Democratic Party and likely to win.

Incumbents are favored for Secretary of State (Alex Padilla), Controller (Betty Yee) and Attorney General (Xavier Becerra). The last race has attracted national attention because Becerra, a former Democratic congressman, was appointed by Gov. Brown specifically with a view to leading Californa’s resistance to President Trump. Former Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, a popular Democrat, is also running, and could give Becerra a close race.

Also on the ballot is the somewhat arcane Board of Equalization, which administers tax and fee collection in California. State Sen. Joel Anderson, a Republican who is termed out, is the leading candidate in the 4th District, which includes Imperial, Orange, Riverside and San Diego counties.


Sen. Dianne Feinstein speaks at the California Democratic Party convention. Photo by Chris Stone

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is seeking her fifth full term in the Senate. The well-known Democrat faces only token Republican opposition — including a neo-Nazi — but a spirited challenge from the progressive wing of her own party.

Kevin De Leon, former state Senate President pro tempore, argues that Feinstein has become too conservative and has lost touch with the values of the California Democratic Party.

Given Feinstein’s age — 84 — there is speculation that she could resign before completing her term, paving the way for California’s new governor to appoint a centrist successor.


All politics may be local, but the backstory to the San Diego Congressional races is opposition to President Trump. A wave of Democratic challengers has emerged in two districts, though California’s “jungle primary” system is a challenge — only the top two vote getters will go on to the November general election.

The 49th District, which straddles coastal San Diego and Orange counties, is a case in point. A total of 16 candidates are running to succeed Rep. Darrell Issa, who resigned rather than face a possible defeat, with most vocally opposed to Trump.

Sara Jacobs. Campaign photo

On the Democratic side the leading candidates are Doug Applegate, who almost won in 2016 but hasn’t campaigned as aggressively this time; small business owner and Navy veteran Paul Kerr; Obama administration official Sara Jacobs, a newcomer who would be one of the youngest women in Congress; and Mike Levin, an environmental attorney from Orange County.

On the Republican side are Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, a centrist who was one of the first Republicans to criticize Trump; Diane Harkey, a state Board of Equalization member who is endorsed by Issa; and San Diego County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, a frequent guest on Fox News who opposes California’s sanctuary laws.

Congressional candidate Ammar Campa-Najjar is interviewed by the media in San Diego. Campaign photo

In the sprawling 50th District in East County, which right-wing father Duncan L. Hunter and then his son Rep. Duncan D. Hunter have represented since 1981, the son faces his first serious opposition. Hunter was the first House member to support Trump, which didn’t hurt his chances in 2016, but may be a negative factor now. Democrats Josh Butner, a former Navy SEAL, and Obama administration official Ammar Campa-Najjar — the San Diego Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate — are vying for at least the number two position. Meanwhile, Hunter is under investigation by the Justice Department over alleged campaign finance violations, and the FBI has raided his office in El Cajon.

The three other Congressional races, involving Democratic incumbents Susan Davis, Scott Peters and Juan Vargas, have not attracted significant opposition.

State Senate

Assemblyman Brian Jones in 2015. Photo by Ken Stone

It’s something of a game of musical chairs in the 38th Senate District, with well-known Republican Brian Jones, who was appointed to the Santee City Council after six years in the Assembly, running for the seat vacated by termed-out Sen. Joel Anderson, who is on the ballot for the State Board of Equalization. The Democratic challenger is Jeff Griffith, a Cal Fire captain. San Diego City Councilman Mark Kersey was on the ballot, but dropped out, citing family responsibilities.

The other two Senate races are fairly quiet, with incumbents favored in the 36th District in North County (Senate Republican leader Patricia Bates) and 40th District in South County (Ben Hueso).

State Assembly

Tasha Boerner Horvath. Campaign photo

With Assemblyman Rocky Chavez running for Congress, there are five Republicans and two Democrats vying for this North County seat. Phil Graham, the son of the former governor, has the Republican Party endorsement, but has not held previous political office. Tasha Boerner Horvath, a member of the Encinitas City Council, has picked up string of Democratic endorsements.

In the 71st District, incumbent Randy Voepel, the long-time mayor of Santee, is favored for re-election to the Assembly, but has faced attacks by Larry Wilske, a retired Navy SEAL who has accused Voepel of inflating his service record.

Incumbents are favored and do not have significant opposition in the 75th District (Marie Waldron), 77th District (Brian Maienschein), 78th District (Todd Gloria), 79th District (Shirley Weber) and 80th District (Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher).

Superintendent of Public Instruction

The race for this statewide office is between state Democratic Assemblymember Tony Thurmond and Marshall Tuck, an education reformer and charter school advocate who ran unsuccessfully in 2014. Thurmond has widespread backing by the California political establishment, while Tuck has the endorsement of an impressive list of educators.

Superior Court

There are two contested seats. Judge Herbert J. Exarhos, who has spent three decades on the court, is seeking re-election to Office 28. The San Diego County Bar Association rates him as “exceptionally qualified.”

Office 37 is a different matter. Incumbent judge Gary Kreep, a noted “birther” who has been repeatedly disciplined, received a rare “lacking qualifications” rating from the bar association. Seeking to unseat him are private-practice attorney Victor Torres, rated as “exceptionally qualified;” Deputy Attorney Gen. Tim Nader, rated “well qualified;” and Matt Brower, a deputy district attorney ranked “qualified.”

San Diego Unified School District

Two board members — Board President Kevin Beiser  and Michael McQuary — are up for re-election, but do not face serious opposition.

San Diego County Board of Supervisors

Two of the five districts are in contention this year, with long-time supervisors Ron Roberts and Bill Horn termed out. District 4 is located entirely within the city of San Diego while District 5 stretches along the northern part of the county.

Nathan Fletcher. Campaign photo

District 4 is getting most of the attention, with former Assemblymember and mayoral candidate Nathan Fletcher facing former District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and attorney Omar Passons, among others. Fletcher is backed by the San Diego County Democratic Party, while Dumanis has the support of the Republican Party and business community. Passons, a well-known community advocate, was unexpectedly endorsed by the San Diego Union-Tribune.

In District 5, the race is probably between San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond and Michelle Gomez, a community activist who is endorsed by the San Diego Democratic Party. Desmond, a Republican, has generated controversy by remarking that in San Marcos “there is no ‘Press 2 for Spanish.’” Also on the ballot are Oceanside City Councilman Jerry Kern and Jacqueline Arsivaud, a member of the San Dieguito Community Planning Group.

District Attorney

District Attorney Summer Stephan. Official photo

The race for District Attorney has attracted national attention, with a political action committee funded by international investor George Soros helping Geneviéve Jones-Wright challenge Summer Stephan, former DA Bonnie Dumanis’ hand-picked successor.

Jones-Wright, a deputy public defender since 2006, promises “progressive criminal justice reform” and is endorsed by the San Diego County Democratic Party.

Stephan, a Republican, became chief deputy district attorney in 2012 and was appointed district attorney in 2017 when Dumanis chose to retire before the end of her term. Stephan is a veteran prosecutor who has special expertise in sex crimes and human trafficking, and has led the San Diego office in this area. She has the support of the business community and the local Republican Party.

Other County Offices

In other county offices, incumbent Sheriff Bill Gore is favored and Treasurer/Tax Collector Dan McAllister is unopposed. But the race for Assessor/Recorder/County Clerk has attracted attention, with challenger Matt Strabone, a lawyer for nonprofits, accusing incubent Ernie Dronenburg of violating election laws in his fundraising.

San Diego City Council

In District 2, incumbent Lorie Zapf, a Republican who has the backing of the business community, faces energetic opposition from environmental attorney Bryan Pease. Also campaigning is Danny Smiechowski, who has been a candidate in several local races.

Antonio Martinez. Campaign photo

With David Alvarez termed out in District 8, and seeking to succeed Greg Cox as a County Supervisor in 2020, all of the candidates are new. The three leading contenders are San Ysidro School Board Member Antonio Martinez, Alvarez staff member Vivian Moreno and community activist Christian Ramirez. Martinez has raised the most money and boasts widespread endorsements. He is the first in his family to attend college, starting at Mesa College and then transferring to the prestigious, Ivy League University of Pennsylvania.

Incumbents do not face significant opposition in District 4 (City Council President Myrtle Cole) and District 6 (Chris Cate). Cole is endorsed by the San Diego Democatic Party, and Cate has the backing of the Republican Party and the business community.

City of Chula Vista

Mary Casillas Salas. Photo by Chris Stone

Mayor Mary Casillas Salas is up for re-election in the county’s second largest city with her only notable opposition being controversial Otay Water District Board Member Hector Raul Gastelum, who opposes Chula Vista’s sanctuary status.

Voters will also elect the first council member from District 2 under the city’s new representation system. Former two-term Councilman Steve Castaneda — who recently survived a bout with cancer — is running, along with Jesse Navarro, director of community relations for the San Diego County District Attorney’s office; Steve Stenberg, a retired firefighter and co-owner of the Third Avenue Ale House; business owner Jill Galvez; teacher and housing commissioner Patrick MacFarland; and Max Zaker, a Chula Vista planning commissioner.

Also on the ballot is Measure A, which would add a half-cent sales tax to pay for emergency services improvements.

State Propositions

There are five state propositions on the ballot. The first three are somewhat controversial, but the last two are technical in nature.

Proposition 68 authorizes the state to issue $4 billion in bonds for parks, water supply and natural resource conservation. It’s supported by the San Diego County Water Authority, but opponents say this is spending the state doesn’t need.

A proposition to repeal the 2017 gas tax increase will likely be on the November ballot, but in any event Proposition 69 would ensure that all money from this goes for transportation projects.

Proposition 70 requires a two-thirds vote by the Legislature to allocate funds from California’s cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gases. It’s backed by Gov. Brown and the California Chamber of Commerce, but opposed by some environmental organizations.

Propositions 71 and 72 are technical in nature and haven’t draw much opposition.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.