California Primary: Antonio Villaraigosa Spent $35 Million to Come in Third

Antonio Villaraigosa (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spent almost $35 million in the California primary to come in third for governor behind Republican businessman and first-time candidate John Cox, who spent just $6.6 million.

Villaraigosa launched his campaign 2 days after the 2016 election of businessman and first-time candidate Donald Trump as U.S. President, with a somber video that backhanded Trump by stating: “We are a state that builds bridges, not walls. We are inclusive. We celebrate our diversity. And we welcome newcomers.”

He added, “We know the answer to fear is hope. The answer to division is unity. And the answer to the millions who feel they have no voice is to make sure they are always heard.”

Democrat Villaraigosa seemed the perfect social justice Latino candidate, having passed a $15 living wage; doubled high school graduation rates from 36 percent to 77 by reducing standards; increased sales taxes to raise $40 billion to expand public transit; and cut greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 30 percent.

The California governor’s race narrowed to a virtual tie in mid-February with Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom at 23 percent and Villaraigosa’s 21 percent, despite Newsom raising $10 million in 2017, versus just $4.4 million for Villaraigosa. Republican John Cox was far behind the leaders at just 7 percent support, having personally funded most of the $5 million in his campaign account.

As the candidate with the greatest momentum, Villaraigosa raised over $24 million in the next three months, including $22.7 million from six individuals — including Netflix CEO Rod Hastings, hedge fund manager Bill Oberdorf, Eli Broad family, Michael Bloomberg; former Mayor Richard Riordan, and WalMart heiress Alice Walton.

Newsom only raised $14 million during the same period, with 5.6 million coming from “Citizens Supporting Newsom,” which is dominated by unions and Blue Cross.

Both Villaraigosa and Newsom spent their cash on huge radio and TV advertising war blitzes. Newsom attacked Cox as an opponent of gun control and called him a “foot-soldier in President Trump’s war on California.”

Villaraigosa attacked Newsom as lazy, ineffective, and just running for California governor in 2018 as a stepping stone to run for president in 2010. Villaraigosa also relentlessly pandered to Latinos fears by attacking President Trump’s immigration policies.

But despite the gusher of big money spending, Villaraigosa only won 13 percent of the primary vote on June 5.

The big surprise was that with Latinos making up the largest single ethnic bloc at almost 40 percent of the population and 34 percent of voters, they comprised only 18 percent of the primary voters, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

Playing on ethnic factors might not have been such a great strategy, given that Latinos have enjoyed the largest employment surge of any voting bloc under President Trump. Latino unemployment stood at 6.4 in September 2016 as Democrat Hillary Clinton was massively spending on media to convince Latino voters Donald Trump would be an economic disaster for their communities.

But the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data for May revealed Latinos have seen the greatest increase in jobs of any ethnic group, as Latino unemployment has plunged to 4.9 percent in May.

President Trump’s endorsement of John Cox on May 18 was a game changer. Despite only raising about $1.6 million since mid-February, Cox benefited from over $10 million of advertising tying him to Republican President Trump, courtesy of Democrats Newsom and Villaraigosa.


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