Gavin Newsom+Kamala Harris

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, two of the best-known Democrats on the June 3 ballot, are widely seen as unbeatable. (Getty Images, Associated Press)

Michael Finnegan
May 17, 2014

Republicans trying to unseat Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris share a common complaint: The two Democrats are so confident of reelection that they’re already laying ground to run for governor in 2018.

“She’s looking right past us,” David King, a Harris challenger, told a recent gathering of Republican women in Thousand Oaks.

Newsom and Harris, two of the best-known Democrats on the June 3 ballot, insist they’re taking nothing for granted. Both deny they’re focused on 2018.

But the weak standing of their Republican challengers, all of them far behind in both fundraising and name recognition, is emblematic of this year’s lopsided and low-key California elections, with Democrats well-positioned to keep their grip on every statewide office.

It has also fueled speculation about whether a clash between Newsom, 46, and Harris, 49, the leading San Francisco politicians of their generation, is inevitable.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that they’re on a collision course for running for governor in 2018,” said Garry South, a former Newsom consultant who was chief political strategist for former Gov. Gray Davis.

Much can change in California’s election climate over the next four years. Among the biggest unknowns: Will Sen. Barbara Boxer, 73, seek reelection in 2016, and will Sen. Dianne Feinstein, 80, run for another term in 2018?

If either Senate seat opens up, the calculus could shift for Newsom, Harris, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other Democrats weighing a run for governor.

For now, Newsom and Harris appear minimally engaged in the June 3 primary, apart from raising money that — if they don’t need it this year — can be rolled into a 2018 campaign.

“It seems remarkably quiet,” Newsom said. “It’s surreal.”

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