California's key primaries: Trump-backed John Cox outpaces Villaraigosa for governor, Feinstein takes top spot in Senate contest

By Gregg Re | Fox News

7 Republican districts in California voted Clinton in 2016

Candidates scrambling to get votes in last minute, as primaries are held in eight states; Hillary Vaughn reports.

Polls have closed in the pivotal primaries in California, the liberal stronghold where Democrats' hopes of retaking Congress in November and mounting a national challenge to President Trump's agenda hang in the balance.

It is too early to project all of the winners and losers in the state's congressional, gubernatorial, and Senate primaries, but the Fox News Decision Desk will make those calls throughout the night as the state counts the ballots.

In early results, Fox News can project that Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom will move on to the November election, taking one of the two top spots in the jungle primary. Newsom will face Trump-backed Republican businessman John Cox, who surged late in the campaign, Fox News can also project.

The result is disappointing for Democratic Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who was widely considered the only realistic challenger to Newsom in November in the extremely liberal state.

Donald J. Trump


California has a rare opportunity to turn things around and solve its high crime, high tax, problems - along with so many others. On June 5th., vote for GOP Gubernatorial Candidate JOHN COX, a really good and highly competent man. Hell Make California Great Again!

2:53 PM - May 28, 2018

And Fox News projects that Sen. Dianne Feinstein will place first in the state's jungle primary -- a widely expected result -- but it's too early to say whether a Republican or another Democrat will place second in the nonpartisan primary.

The state's key House races, though, are still too close to call.

Democrats need to flip 23 Republican-controlled to retake the House from the GOP in November. Out of California's 53 House seats, Republicans hold 14 -- and seven of those GOP-held districts backed Hillary Clinton in 2016.

That makes the Golden State center stage for what Democrats are hoping is a major anti-Trump wave in November.

In several races, including the state's gubernatorial contest and several contested House battles, either Republicans or Democrats face the very real prospect of being denied a place on the ballot in the general election.


That's because of California's nonpartisan, open "jungle primary" system, which advances the top two vote-getting candidates to the general election -- regardless of their party affiliation.

The risk is particularly high for Democrats, who are riding a wave of anti-Trump enthusiasm in California. So many Democrats are running in three of the House races that they might split the vote to such an extent that two Republicans end up with the most ballots.

That result would lock Democrats out of competing in the general election in some of the most vulnerable Republican districts, a kind of embarrassing political "own goal" that would highlight the quirks and perils of California's unique primary procedure.

Seven other states
held primaries on Tuesday, including New Jersey, Alabama, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Dakota, Iowa and Montana. Click here for results from those key races.

Calif. gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom is widely expected to finish first in the state's jungle primary. (AP)

More on California's closest races:

The governor's race

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a liberal establishment Democrat who previously served as mayor of San Francisco, will win one of the two spots in the jungle primary and therefore will advance to the November ballot, Fox News can project.

But the intrigue in the race centered on who will take the number two spot. Democratic Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Republican businessman John Cox, who surged late after an endorsement from President Trump, were locked in a close battle for second place.

Newsom is essentially assured victory in November's statewide contest, given California's overwhelmingly liberal electorate.

Some Democrats cried foul earlier this month after Newsom ran ads that reminded voters of Cox's connections with Trump and the NRA, saying the frontrunner was implicitly trying to rally conservatives to the polls to ensure Cox beat Villaraigosa for the second spot on the ballot.

The House races

One of the most hotly contested races is in the 48th Congressional District, which includes Newport Beach and Laguna Beach. Hillary Clinton narrowly won the district in 2016. Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who has held the safe seat without serious challenge for decades, faces eight Democrats and fierce competition from GOP rival Scott Baugh.

So many Democrats are running for the seat that none may end up getting the votes needed to appear on the ballot in November.


Incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein is expected to cruise to victory in both the primary and the general election. (AP)

A similar situation might play out in California's 49th District, where a broad array of candidates is vying for the seat vacated by retiring GOP Rep. Darrell Issa. Eight Republican candidates are in the running, along with four Democrats who are neck-and-neck. The sheer number of entrants in the race could lock out either the GOP or the Democrats in November. Hillary Clinton also won here in 2016, by a margin of a little over seven points.

Another closely watched race is the effort by four Democrats to unseat incumbent Republican Rep. Mimi Walters in the 45th District in Orange County, which no Democrat has ever represented but that also supported Clinton in 2016. Walters voted to repeal ObamaCare, which has become a hot-button issue in the increasingly liberal district.

Important GOP-held seats with incumbents facing challenges are the 50th District, where Rep. Duncan Hunter is under investigation for misuse of campaign funds; the 10th District held by Rep. Jeff Denham; the 21st District, where Hillary Clinton won convincingly, that is currently occupied by David Valadao; and the 25th District, where Rep. Steve Knight is facing several challengers.

Ed Royce, who was first elected to Congress in 1992 and chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, announced his retirement earlier this year. He will vacate his 39th District seat, and several Republican and Democratic candidates are competing to replace him. That setup, again, raises the possibility of one party being knocked entirely out of the November contest.

The Senate race

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., will place first in the jungle primary, Fox News projects, even though the California Democratic Party pointedly declined to endorse her in February.

The majority of the votes from delegates at the party's annual convention went to State Sen. Kevin de Leon, Feinstein's progressive challenger who served as the former president pro tempore of the California Senate. Republican James P. Bradley, another hopeful in the primary, is not expected to make it to November's contest.

At 84 years old, Feinstein is the oldest senator in the U.S., and California's increasingly liberal demographics raised concerns during the campaign that even Feinstein may be too moderate for the state's new progressive wing. But her strong party backing, financial position and name recognition have offset those potential stumbling blocks.