With hours to go before Californians head to the polls and begin the process of selecting a successor to outgoing Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, signs are ominous that something once thought out of the question less than a year ago is going to happen: namely, a conservative Republican will win one of the top two spots in the Golden State's "jungle primary" and advance to a run-off in November.
According to a just-completed Berkeley IGS poll among likely voters statewide, Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is running first with 33 percent of the vote, followed by accountant-businessman and Republican John Cox with 20 percent, former Los Angeles Democratic Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa 13 percent, GOP State Assemblyman Travis Allen 12 percent, and the remainder divided up among minor candidates.
Through deployment of his personal wealth, a right-of-center manifesto on issues from taxes to illegal immigration, and the tweeted endorsement of Donald Trump, Cox is poised to be facing arch-liberal Democrat Newsom in the fall.
Under California's French-style electoral system, all candidates compete on the same ballot in June regardless of party and the top two vote-getters compete in a November run-off.
This can cause single party elections, and more often than not, the races are between two Democrats.
Not so in the governor's race, it appears.
In fact, the unexpected strength of Republicans Cox and Allen led the California GOP state committee to hold an unprecedented convention to endorse a candidate. Neither contender reached the 60 percent of the state committee needed for endorsement, although Cox came close with 55 percent.
"This is the first time we have ever had an endorsing convention because of the evil, top two jungle primary," Steel said. "Now, the Democrats who created this don't like it either. They might be frozen out of certain primaries."
In addition, desperate candidates such as Villaraigosa are spending thousands on advertisements aimed to split Republican votes in half. Now running third in most polls, Villaraigosa has actually run many ads for Republican candidate Allen.
According to Steel, Villaraigosa advertisements are the exact opposite of his beliefs. They promote Allen and his conservative positions – including his strong opposition to sanctuary cities.
"He is saying things he doesn't remotely believe in and that his soul hates," Steel told Newsmax. "But, it doesn't matter, because he is trying to get Republicans to split their vote."
The two Republican candidates are not that much different in terms of their platforms. Steel claims the "singular distinction" is money and that Cox putting in millions of dollars is what has set the campaign ahead in polls.
"Travis has a huge, dynamic grassroots campaign, one of the best I've seen in years," Steel said. "People are very excited about Travis, but Cox is dominating the TV. When you dominate the TV, that's where most voters get their influence. People don't want to admit that, but it's true."
Hugely successful in business, Cox has a history of seeking office unsuccessfully — in Illinois. There, he made losing bids for nomination as U.S. Senator and Representative and Record of Deeds for Cook County. He later moved to Rancho Santa Fe in California.
Some fear Cox's history with both running for office in Illinois and losing is a predictor of his future in California. Steel says usually running and losing is a problem, but in this case he thinks experience has allowed Cox to sharpen his message.
"America is the land of second opportunities and chances and, well, Cox has had 11," Steel said. "Now, maybe he has learned to forge a good message. That's what it looks like to me."
Ariana Rowlands, California College Republicans Chairwoman, agreed Cox should not be judged by his past.
"Every time my mom sees a negative Cox ad," she says, "I don't really care about how many times he's lost and kept trying. At least he keeps trying and is a fighter."
According to published reports, Republican turnout has greatly increased. As of Monday, an unusually high 34 percent of mailed ballots were from Republican voters. According to Steel, Latino voters have not been turning out as much, and Democrat voter numbers are about average.
All of this could point to a second-place finish for John Cox.
Kimberly Burton, an incoming junior at Temple University (Pa.), is a summer intern at the Washington, D.C., bureau of Newsmax.
© 2022 Newsmax. All rights reserved.