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Professor Joel Fox on the 2018 California Governor's Race | The Orange County Register

A Business Strategy for the Governor’s Race

Nov. 18, 2016 | By Joel Fox | The Orange County Register

Now that the 2018 race for governor of California is in full swing with the release of the first Field Poll on the contest, as the race shapes up business interests will consider how to position themselves in a multi-candidate field.

Conventional wisdom dictates that if one well-known Republican runs against a field of equally known Democrats, that Republican can make the top-two run off avoiding a repeat of the recent U.S. Senate race in which two Democrats competed for the job. However, if more than one Republican with a political base runs, the smaller Republican turnout would be split to allow Democrats to take the top two spots in the primary. As of now there are at least seven Democratic politicians whose names are tied to the race: Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Treasurer John Chiang, Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, current Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, environmentalist and Democratic activist Tom Steyer, former Controller Steve Westly and former Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin. Two Republican names were tested in the Field Poll, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, although neither has committed to run and there is plenty of time for an outsider, especially one with deep-pockets, to join the race.

Business interests will weigh which candidates could be helpful in moving an agenda of creating jobs and making the state more business friendly — and which candidates might make it tougher to operate in the infamously tough business environment of California.

The idea that a Republican candidate friendly to business can get into the run-off and prevail may seem far-fetched after an election that deepened California’s left-leaning blue tinge. However, voters in another deep-blue state, Massachusetts, have frequently put a Republican in the governor’s chair to watch over a supermajority Democratic legislature.

But if that model is unlikely here, what does the business community do?

Perhaps, business will involve itself in the primary election not to push a candidate they hope will become governor but to try and influence the race to knock-out any candidate they believe would be anti-business.

There is a precedent for outside interests getting involved in a primary to influence the outcome of the general election. In 2002, when Gov. Gray Davis was running for re-election, he and his campaign team feared that former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan would be a formidable foe if Riordan captured the Republican nomination for governor. In an unprecedented move, the Davis campaign involved itself in the Republican primary (before the top-two format existed) running television ads against Riordan. The strategy worked and Riordan failed to make the general election. Davis then defeated his preferred opponent, Bill Simon.

Surveying the field of gubernatorial candidates, business interests may believe a similar strategy would be helpful in having some influence in the governor’s race in a state that is more and more controlled by Democrats.

Joel Fox heads the Small Business Action Committee, is co-publisher of Fox & Hounds Daily and teaches at Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy.