Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox, right, stops to pose for a picture at his election night headquarters in San Diego on June 5 2018. Picture: REUTERS
Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox, right, stops to pose for a picture at his election night headquarters in San Diego on June 5 2018. Picture: REUTERS

San Francisco — Lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom and Republican businessman John Cox won the most votes in California’s gubernatorial primary, advancing to a general election that will test the state’s position as leader of the resistance to President Donald Trump.

Newsom, a Democrat who was long considered the frontrunner, captured the biggest share of votes on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

Cox, who has never won a political race and was endorsed by Trump, placed second in a crowded field of 27 contenders.

Under California’s system, the top two finishers in the primary advance regardless of party.

Newsom and Cox will vie in November to succeed Jerry Brown, the 80-year-old Democrat who over the past 17 months has become the outspoken chief of blue states’ resistance to Trump’s policies.

California has challenged the US government at the pace of two lawsuits a month since the president’s inauguration, with flash points including immigration policies and vehicle emissions limits.

Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor who gained national recognition for being an early promoter of gay marriage, is an outspoken critic of Trump’s policies.

"It’s time for change, but not just here," the lieutenant governor said in an e-mail to supporters on Tuesday night. "All of America’s future is defined by California’s present."

The lieutenant governor in California is essentially a deputy to the governor.

Cox has said Californians want him to work with the administration. He faces a tough general-election fight going against Newsom in a state with a heavy liberal tilt.

Not only do registered Democrats outnumber Republicans — by 44.4% to 25.1% — so do unaffiliated voters, at 25.5%.

The primary was a disappointment for Antonio Villaraigosa, a former Los Angeles mayor and state assembly leader who was an early frontrunner in polls before falling behind Cox in recent weeks.

He initially called for voting to be extended after more than 100,000 people were left off the roster at polling places in Los Angeles County, but conceded defeat late on Tuesday and threw his support behind Newsom.

Fiscal questions

The governor’s race holds importance to Wall Street, which has rewarded Brown’s fiscal discipline in an economy that has become the world’s fifth-largest.

In the past eight years, the governor whittled down a $27bn deficit and turned around state finances, leaving his successor a $9bn surplus.

California bonds are so in demand, they are trading similar to top-rated municipal debt.

But with Brown warning that an economic downturn is overdue, given the length of the current expansion, investors want to know how the next governor would avoid a return to an era of crippling deficits, especially since the candidates have not addressed how they would deal with a recession.

"We know one is coming at some point," said Gabriel Petek, an analyst at S&P Global Ratings. "That will test the state’s fiscal resilience, and it will only be harder if they extended their commitments further."