GOP Fears It Will Be Shut Out Of California Governor's Race Registered Republicans now make up just 25 percent of the state's electorate. If they are divided in this race, a Democrat could claim second place in the state's open primary.

GOP Fears It Will Be Shut Out Of California Governor's Race

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It's rare that a candidate for public office hopes for second place, but that's what's happening in California. The state holds an open primary next month. And that means the top two candidates, regardless of their party, will go to a runoff in November. In super blue California, Republicans fear they will have no candidates in the runoff for governor for the first time. And if that happens, the impact could extend from the statehouse in Sacramento to Capitol Hill in Washington. NPR's Ina Jaffe reports.

INA JAFFE, BYLINE: If the November election comes down to just two Democrats vying to be governor of California, that'll be a victory for former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Recently he was on familiar turf in South LA thanking African-American community leaders for their endorsements.


ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: This community opened up a door for me. I never would've been mayor of Los Angeles if in 2005 we hadn't had an outpouring of support there. And I never forgot that.

JAFFE: The clear front-runner in this race is Democratic Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom. Polls show Villaraigosa in second place, or sometimes third or even fourth. But his name recognition is likely to rise courtesy of millions of dollars in independent expenditures from a few wealthy backers. And those resources have Republicans worried. Their party has been steadily declining in California and now claims just around a quarter of the state's registered voters.

CAROLINE ABATE: Endorse somebody. Don't leave without endorsement. Show party unity.

JAFFE: Caroline Abate was at the state Republican convention in San Diego over the weekend waving signs for both GOP candidates. That's businessman John Cox and State Assemblyman Travis Allen. She said convention delegates need to officially endorse one of them.

ABATE: If they split the vote, Antonio Villaraigosa's going to get number two. So it's going to be over for the Republicans in June.

JAFFE: On paper, Cox And Allen check a lot of the same boxes. They both support a border wall. They both want to repeal the recent California law protecting undocumented immigrants and another one raising the gas tax. Their big differences are in style. John Cox sees the state through the lens of a business executive. He told delegates that California's been mismanaged, and it'll take a businessman to fix it.


JOHN COX: Businesspeople solve problems. They're not a bunch of rhetoric. They're not a bunch of hot air. They get results. And that's what people want.

JAFFE: While Cox is pouring part of his personal fortune into his campaign, Travis Allen's is running on fumes. He compensates with enthusiasm and his passionate support of President Trump.


TRAVIS ALLEN: Did we take back our country in 2016?


ALLEN: Are you ready to take back our state in 2018?


JAFFE: Neither Allen nor Cox could muster enough support to win the party's endorsement, so they'll likely be fighting for the same dwindling pool of conservative voters, decreasing their chances of making the runoff. Delegate Karen Roseberry found that alarming. There is so much more at stake, she said, than just the governor's race.


KAREN ROSEBERRY: Every down-ticket race is counting on this. We need a top two finisher in November. And that comes when the party is united. We need to...

JAFFE: Those down-ticket races that worry Roseberry include at least half a dozen vulnerable Republican House seats. If Democrats can grab those, it would help them tip the balance of power in Congress. No one knows what the impact on Republican turnout will be if there are only Democrats to choose from in the California governor's race. But Republicans are hoping they won't have a chance to find out. Ina Jaffe, NPR News.


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