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The governors field for 2026 is expected to be fuller

At the beginning of the year, there was great joy among California feminists as they reviewed the list of candidates to succeed Gavin Newsom as Governor of California in 2026.

That's because the early candidates have been almost entirely women for months. Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis was the first to announce her candidacy, three years before the vote. Earlier this year, Toni Atkins of San Diego, the former longtime president of the state Senate, joined them. A few months later, they were joined by Betty Yee, the former state auditor. So far, the only male candidate announced was Tony Thurmond, a former Democratic congressman from Richmond and the state's current superintendent of schools.

But this list, where women are in the majority, will not last long. As we get closer to the June 2, 2026 primary (now less than two years away), more male candidates seem to be emerging.

However, Thurmond remains the only man to make his ambitions official.

But with a vacant seat at stake, the field will not be short of a significant number of men for long.

One strong candidate is Rob Bonta, a former longtime Democratic representative from Fremont who was appointed attorney general by Newsom in 2021. Bonta single-handedly won the election the following year. Unlike other candidates, he faces a key question: Should he risk entering a very crowded election that will not even see him make the November 2026 runoff, or should he play it safe and easily return to his current office?

If Bonta runs and wins, he would be the first governor married to a member of the Legislature, as Bonta's wife, Mia, was elected after he ascended to office and now represents Oakland and Emeryville in the Assembly.

Bonta would continue Newsom's focus on solving the state's housing shortage, the exact extent of which is uncertain because Newsom has cited several widely varying numbers. But Bonta, who has sued many cities to force housing quotas on them, would likely take a tougher approach on this area than any other current gubernatorial candidate.

Another possible male candidate is Xavier Becerra, the current U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. Becerra, who served as Attorney General before Bonta, has quietly demonstrated his effectiveness in the Cabinet but would lose his job if President Biden loses the election in the fall.

Becerra served East Los Angeles in Congress for 25 years before former Gov. Jerry Brown appointed him California's attorney general in 2017 when current Vice President Kamala Harris moved to the U.S. Senate. He single-handedly won election the following year. Becerra, who was a staunch advocate for voting rights as attorney general, could struggle in a large Democratic field, but could also draw the most Latino votes in a bracket that might otherwise lack significant Hispanic candidates.

A wild card and perhaps the best choice among today's possible runoff candidates is Chad Bianco, the extremely vocal conservative sheriff of Riverside County.

Bianco, the only Republican currently known to be considering a run, could manage to repeat the success of current Senate candidate Steve Garvey and unite Republican and right-leaning voters with no party preference into a bloc large enough to rival the following of leading Democrats vying for a runoff.

For some conservatives, Bianco became a hero because he was one of several “unlawful sheriffs” who refused to enforce Newsom’s 2020 pandemic-related curfews or mask mandates.

He is currently one of the law enforcement leaders supporting an initiative to roll back some of the criminal justice changes brought about by Bill 47 of 2014, which many police officers blame for the increase in shoplifting and other property crimes because it reduced the number of prosecutions.

Of all of these figures, Kounalakis, Yee, Becerra and Bonta have already appeared on statewide ballots, which is usually an advantage when running for governor or Senate. And Kounalakis, the daughter of wealthy Sacramento developer Angelo Tsakopoulos, will have virtually unlimited funds, as she did when she ran for her current office.

Who could emerge as the winner from this race is pure speculation. However, there is no guarantee that any of the candidates will win.

Send email to Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com.

Anna Harden

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