Republican businessman John Cox and Democrat Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom squared off Monday morning in their first and only debate in the race for governor of California, broadcast live on the Forum program of Bay Area public radio station KQED.
The debate, moderated by KQED senior editor Scott Shafer, was comprehensive, covering a wide range of issues relevant to the state, from the high cost of housing to the efficacy of prison reform. Cox was at his best when discussing California’s hostile business climate and the need for lower taxes and regulations. The moderator acknowledged Cox’s role in championing Proposition 6, a ballot initiative before voters this fall to repeal last year’s deeply unpopular 12-cent-per-gallon gas tax hike.
Newsom was strongest when discussing social issues on which he has led the state, starting with his pioneering decision in 2004, as mayor of San Francisco, to legalize same-sex marriage within the city. He has also led recent gun control efforts in the state, and supports outgoing Governor Jerry Brown’s aggressive efforts to lead the world on climate change policy — even if California’s grand efforts have little more than symbolic effects, since they do not significantly affect global temperature.
Shafer challenged each of the candidates on their personal weaknesses. He mentioned, for example, that Newsom was known for his frequent clashes with colleagues in government, from San Francisco’s board of supervisors to the leaders of California’s legislature. (Newsom responded by casting those arguments as a product of his pushes for change.) Shafer quizzed Cox about his political history — first as a Democrat in the 1970s in Illinois, then a staunch social conservative opposed to gay marriage.
Each of the candidates held his own, and the tone was respectful throughout. Newsom has led the race by a wide margin since the two candidates emerged from the June primary, though Cox has gained rapidly in recent polls, to within single digits.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.