Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom
Paul Wellman (file)

The pack of wannabes seeking to succeed Governor Jerry Brown started wooing insiders three years ago ​— ​and now the voters finally get to tune in.

After amassing tens of millions of dollars via special-interest pandering, social media marketing, and galas with the cognoscenti, the top contenders have entered the final, most crucial phase of California campaigning ​— ​blasting 30-second spots through our TV screens.

As the candidates struggle to finish first or second in the primary, winning a ticket to the November runoff, here are some key factors shaping the stretch run.

The ballot. The campaign’s most notable element is the ballot itself: 27 candidates, names randomly rotated precinct to precinct, include 12 Democrats, five Republicans, two Greens, two Libertarians, a Peace & Freedom hopeful, and five No Party Preference contestants.

No word yet on the partridge in a pear tree.

Front-runner Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom (leading not least because of $20-plus million cash on hand) thus competes for ballot eyeball bandwidth with Christopher N. Carlson (“puppeteer/musician”), Akinyemi Agbede (“mathematician”), and Zoltan Istvan (“entrepreneur/transhumanist lecturer”), for starters.

The polls. Public opinion surveys to date ranked Newsom and former L.A. mayor Antonio Villaraigosa one-two, but focused almost exclusively on that pair and their fellow Dems, State Treasurer John Chiang and former state schools supe Delaine Eastin, plus GOP anti-tax activist John Cox and Assemblymember Travis Allen.

Now comes Mark DiCamillo, who formerly managed the late, lamented Field Poll and now surveys for UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies (IGS).

An innovative and thoroughly unproven online polling methodology only slightly more confusing than string theory, DiCamillo’s statistically modeled email simulation nonetheless is the first to present voters with all 27 names.

The cyber survey’s shocking result: Villaraigosa ran fourth (9 percent), not only behind Newsom (30 percent) but also after Cox (18 percent) and Allen (16 percent), suggesting that when the deal goes down, party affiliation, not name ID, may emerge as most crucial.

The ads. That said, Villaraigosa has one big advantage ​— ​actually, seven million of them, i.e., the dollars in his campaign account, not including a like amount on his behalf from independent expenditure groups favoring his strong charter-school leanings.

Tony V.’s ads are pretty standard stuff, often glam shots of him making nice with Real People. His current rotation focuses on Latino workers, reflecting his bid to become California’s first governor of color; he only draws 26 percent of Latinos in the IGS poll, however, a serious head-scratcher.

Prince Gavin’s latest ad was barely on the air when the fact-checking industry whacked it.

With the tag line “Courage for a change” (puh-leeze), Newsom claims his “bold leadership” made him “The first to take on the National Rifle Association and win,” referencing 2016’s Proposition 63, which he sponsored.

The influential PolitiFact rated his claim, um, “False,” because he disregards generations of politicians credited with past gun-control laws, including former L.A. mayor Tom Bradley, Senator Dianne Feinstein, and, oh yeah, Antonio Villaraigosa, who was Assembly speaker when the state assault weapons ban passed.

Seeking to break through the clutter, Treasurer Chiang is airing a spot spoofing the Dos Equis “most interesting man in the world” campaign. Portraying Chiang as “the most accomplished man in California,” it presents his record in a series of shaky, quick-cut images over an acoustic guitar riff, narrated by San Diego lawmaker Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher ​— ​“I don’t always endorse, but when I do, I endorse John Chiang for governor,” she says, adding, “Stay woke, California.”

The most extraordinary spot to date is financed by Restore Our Values, an independent expenditure committee backing Republican Cox.

It begins with a montage of notorious sexual harassers ​— ​Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, and Charlie Rose, among others ​— ​and then shows print journalism coverage of then–San Francisco mayor Newsom’s scandalous affair with a staff member (then married to his closest adviser ​— ​barf) and Antonio’s slightly less skeevy liaison with an L.A. City Hall TV reporter.

“Californians deserve better,” it concludes. “John Cox for governor.”

Mail ballots are going out May 7. Don’t forget to vote.


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