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27 Candidates Are Running to Replace California Gov. Jerry Brown. Meet the 3 Frontrunners

A mere 27 candidates will appear on Tuesday’s ballot for governor in California.

Whoever wins will replace Gov. Jerry Brown, who is term-limited.

Brown, who first served as governor between 1975 and 1983, returned to office in 2011. He has been at the helm during a prosperous period in California’s history, and will leave big shoes to fill.

Despite a vast field of candidates (including a transhumanist, a rapper, and puppeteer), three are leading the race: Democrats Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa, and Republican John Cox.

Gavin Newsom

Newsom, 50, is currently serving as California’s Lieutenant Governor and is the frontrunner in the race. He has been Brown’s lieutenant since 2011, and before that served as San Francisco mayor from 2004 to 2011—making him then the city’s youngest mayor in 100 years.

He is progressive, emerging as an early advocate for same-sex marriage, and favored the legalization of cannabis in California.

But in the #MeToo era, Newsom faces at least one potential criticism: he was involved in a high-profile affair with his campaign manager’s wife in 2005. News of the affair emerged during his re-election campaign in 2007—but he easily won another term as mayor.

While most Democrats appear to be unconcerned by Newsom’s transgression (he is firmly ahead in nearly every poll), others see hypocrisy. Amanda Renteria, herself a Democratic candidate for governor, has called on Newsom to remove himself from the race, saying that “elected officials need to be held to a higher standard.” She has called for electing people “who do not abuse their power.”

There has also been concern raised over a $1,000 donation Newsom accepted at a fundraiser last summer “from a controversial Soviet émigré with an extensive history of misrepresenting his business dealings to investors and the U.S. Justice Department.” But Newsom apparently hopes to quickly assuage those concerns, announcing last week that he would return the donation.

Antonio Villaraigosa

Like Newsom, Villaraigosa is a former mayor, serving the city of Los Angeles from 2005 to 2013. Also like Newsom, Villaraigosa himself was at the center of a high-profile affair. In 2007, he acknowledged an affair with a television anchor who had been assigned to cover him.

Despite the affair, Villaraigosa has not faced much criticism from the Democratic party. Indeed, many have appeared willing to overlook the relationships, as both Villaraigosa’s and Newsom’s affairs were consensual, and both separated from their wives not long thereafter.

Villaraigosa falls considerably behind Newsom in most of the polls, however. This may be at least in small part because Villaraigosa has been out of politics for nearly five years, and his stance on many issues falls to the right of Newsom’s.

John Cox

The Republican frontrunner is John Cox, a businessman and relatively recent California transplant. While appearing to get much of the Republican party’s support in California, the Chicago native has also been endorsed by President Trump, which could ultimately be a drawback in a state where Trump is very unpopular.

Cox has run for office a number of times, including a bid for president in 2008. Nevertheless, he has never been elected, and his lack of experience may prove to be an impediment, according to a New York Times report.

In spite of this, Cox could be the one to face Newsom in November—especially if Newsom has anything to do with it.

Thanks to California’s ‘jungle’ primary system, which puts the two highest primary vote-getters on the general election ballot, two Democrats could could end up facing each other in the final vote. Yet Newsom’s chance of winning is considerably higher if he faces a Republican, and he has been accused of indirectly supporting a campaign to boost Cox’s chances of reaching the general election.

Labor groups who support Newsom have reportedly funded an ad that attacks Cox by playing up his conservative credentials and support for Trump. According to analysts, the ad hopes to consolidate Republican support behind Cox, thereby pushing Villaraigosa out. Villaraigosa himself has filed a complaint, alleging that the ad is in violation of campaign laws.

According to the IGS poll from U.C. Berkeley, Newsom is at 33%, trailed by Cox with 20%, and Villaraigosa with 13%. Whoever wins will have a tough road after a prosperous few years, however. As Gov. Brown said earlier this year, “What’s out there is darkness, uncertainty, decline and recession. So good luck, baby.”