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With his second-place finish in California’s June primary, Northern California Republican state Sen. Brian Dahle won the right to challenge Gov. Gavin Newsom in the Nov. 8 general election.
For Dahle, the path to victory is formidable. With little money at his disposal and scant name recognition statewide, Dahle is campaigning to unseat a Democratic governor with a massive fundraising advantage who is a household name across the state.
For an incumbent, notoriety can cut both ways, but Newsom remains popular among Californians. A recent poll of likely voters found that 52% gave Newsom favorable marks. When asked how they would vote on the 2022 governor's race, 53% said they supported Newsom while 32% backed Dahle.
With Democrats holding a 2-1 voter registration advantage over Republicans, Newsom is expected to cruise to reelection. But you never know what may happen between now and election day.
Amid persistent concerns about homelessness, surging gasoline prices and high inflation, more than half of California voters believed the state was headed in the wrong direction, according to an August opinion poll.
Who are the candidates?
Newsom's political career began in 1996 when then-Mayor Willie Brown appointed him to San Francisco’s Parking and Traffic Commission and the following year to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He became San Francisco’s youngest mayor in 2004, went on to serve as lieutenant governor and captured the governor’s office in 2018 with the largest margin of victory in more than a century.
Throughout his time in public office, Newsom has earned a reputation for championing progressive causes. He stood up for LGBTQ rights and issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples as mayor. Months into his governorship, he imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in California. In August, the Legislature met his call to impose stronger restrictions on the oil and gas industry, including buffer zones between new wells and neighborhoods and schools, to the delight of environmental justice advocates.
On the scale of San Francisco politics, Newsom was often seen as a business-friendly moderate. His Care Not Cash program, which sought to reduce welfare for single homeless adults and instead spend the funds on shelters, housing and services, was widely criticized by activists who called it heartless.
This year, he took on the American Civil Liberties Union, Disability Rights California and the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which opposed his law establishing a Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Court system. CARE Court aims to provide court-ordered treatment for thousands of Californians suffering from a mix of severe mental illness, homelessness and addiction.
Democrats at the Capitol also heeded his call this year to extend operations at Diablo Canyon, reversing an agreement environmental groups drove six years ago to shut down California’s last remaining nuclear plant out of safety concerns.
The 55-year-old governor has focused his reelection campaign largely outside California. Newsom has paid little attention to Dahle and instead has taken advantage of social media and speaking events across the country to position himself as a national Democratic leader fighting back against Republican governors. He challenged Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida to a debate. His first ads after the primary ran in Florida and he promoted a California website to help people seek abortions on billboards in seven states with the most restrictive abortion bans.
His attempts to seek national attention have stirred speculation that he's running a not-so-shadow campaign for president, though he denies having any interest in the White House and says he supports President Biden.
Dahle is a conservative state senator from the tiny town of Bieber in the northeast corner of California. The 57-year-old legislator was on the Lassen County Board of Supervisors for 16 years before being elected to the California Legislature in 2012. He served as Assembly Republican leader before being elected to the state Senate in 2018. He has focused on water, forestry, wildfire and housing issues, working with elected officials from across the Western states.
Friends and colleagues in Lassen County and the state Capitol praise Dahle for his warm, friendly demeanor. While true to his conservative opinions, he eschews the caustic partisan politics pervasive in Washington and in the national dialogue.
Dahle was a member of the Quincy Library Group, a consortium of environmentalists, timber company representatives and elected officials in the northeastern part of California. The group was formed to quell the decades-long, contentious fights over management policies for national forestlands in the northern Sierra Nevada.
Dahle and others worked with Sen. Diane Feinstein of California and other Democrats and Republicans in Congress to pass a short-lived regional forestry program in 1998, which, in part, thinned combustible overgrowth to prevent catastrophic wildfires.
Along with working at the Capitol with his wife, Assemblymember Megan Dahle, the senator operates a 1,000-acre seed farm outside Bieber on land that has been in his family for generations.
After high school, college wasn’t an option for Dahle or his three siblings, he said. The family had plenty of farmland but little money. He worked different jobs up and down the state, pulling chains in the local lumber mill, blasting rock to build hydroelectric plants and driving a bulldozer in an open-pit gold mine. He returned to the family farm in his mid-20s.
When asked if he voted for Trump in either of the last two presidential elections, he said that isn’t relevant to the current issues California faces. When asked if President Biden was legitimately elected in 2020, despite Trump’s false claims that the election was rigged, Dahle said only that Biden is “our president.”
When Trump made a stop in Redding during the 2016 presidential campaign, Dahle declared the area “Trump Country,” according to the Record Searchlight. And it still is. In California, Trump was trounced statewide by Biden in 2020. But in Lassen County, Trump won 75% of the vote.
Where Newsom and Dahle stand on the homelessness crisis
A month before the COVID-19 pandemic upended life in California, Newsom boldly proclaimed in his 2020 State of the State address that "homelessness can be solved." He vowed to bring the full force of his administration to bear on the state's worsening homelessness crisis. Alleviating it is "our calling," he said.
The speech and his decision to highlight homelessness as his top cause were an acknowledgement of sorts that the humanitarian crisis and deterioration of cities across the state could eclipse his progressive agenda and, perhaps, his legacy as the 40th governor of California.
Then, the pandemic hit, and his administration became consumed with other monumental concerns: preventing sick patients from overrunning hospitals, seeking tests, shutting down businesses to prevent rapid spread of the virus and maintaining the food supply, among countless other critical issues.
Winston Churchill has been credited with saying, "Never let a good crisis for to waste." The Newsom administration took advantage of the pandemic to create Project Roomkey, which used vacant hotel and motel rooms as temporary shelter for homeless Californians. Roomkey led to an offering of more permanent housing through Project Homekey, which provided homes to 8,264 individuals in an initial round.
The 2022-23 state budget provides $10.2 billion over two years for homelessness programs, which includes funding for Homekey, grants to house Californians living in encampments and money to provide housing to those with severe behavioral health needs.
Lawmakers in August approved CARE Court, Newsom's marquee policy to force care for an estimated 7,000 to 12,000 Californians experiencing homelessness and suffering from severe mental illness. The plan received wide support from registered voters in a recent poll, with 76% saying they favored CARE Court.
Dahle has criticized Newsom's record on homelessness, arguing that the billions of dollars the governor has thrown at the problem aren't making a dent in the crisis. He's said that Californians are fed up with rising homelessness and crime, and that only new leadership can solve the problems. A poll earlier this year showed that voters disapproved of Newsom's handling of homelessness and crime.
In the run-up to the primary, Dahle called for a crackdown on homeless encampments and greater incentives for drug users and the mentally ill to receive treatment when provided housing.
Dahle said he would audit homelessness programs while boosting rehabilitation and mental health services, including those offered by nonprofits and faith-based organizations. He favors building more shelters, speeding up the construction of affordable housing and imposing fewer construction limits under the landmark California Environmental Quality Act.
Where Newsom and Dahle stand on climate change
Newsom has cast himself as a nation-leading climate advocate and successfully pushed the California Legislature to pass a series of laws this year to harden the state's goals of reducing greenhouse gases and increasing the use of renewable energy.
The climate package included a ban on permits for new oil wells within 3,200 feet of a “sensitive receptor,” defined as a residence, education resource, community resource, healthcare facility, dormitory or any building open to the public.
Held back by the powerful oil industry, lawmakers had tried but failed to pass the legislation on their own in prior years while Newsom remained on the sidelines. The governor joined the fight and urged them to take action one month before the Legislature adjourned for the year. The call to action came shortly after his battle with the oil industry intensified in Florida, where Western States Petroleum Assn. ran advertisements blaming Newsom for California's nation-leading gasoline prices.
Environmentalists celebrated the passage of the climate bills but balanced their praise with criticism for Newsom's decision to extend operations at the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in San Luis Obispo County.
The 2022-23 state budget sets aside $38.8 billion for climate efforts over five years, though money earmarked for future budget years could be subject to change if the state experiences an economic downturn. The funding supports the electric vehicles, high-speed rail, drought resilience and wildfire prevention and response.
Dahle said that, as a farmer, he sees firsthand that the climate is changing — "there's no doubt about it."
But he argues that the policies being pushed by Newsom and Democratic leaders in California are not going to make a dent in worldwide climate change. Those policies, including efforts to restrict oil product in California, hurt workers and their families, he said. Since California still consumes more gasoline than almost any other state in the union, he said, the state will be forced to import oil from places such as Ecuador, Russia and the Middle East, which lack strict environmental safeguards.
On his website, Dahle says that forest fires created more carbon emissions than all the cars on the road in 2020. The Republican candidate points to legislation he introduced to count wildfire emissions in the state's plan to reduce carbon emissions.
He argues that "climate change is not the primary cause of California’s recent super fires" and says the state's misguided efforts have hindered the goal of a healthy environment. He says climate change is one factor but says forest management is even more important.
Dahle criticized the governor's climate proposals during floor debate in the California Senate in August.
"How long are we going to just continue to set targets with no good detail and just throw money at it and get no result?" Dahle said.
Where Newsom and Dahle stand on reproductive rights
Newsom supports abortion rights and has tried to redefine the term "pro-life."
He has suggested that his agenda in support of gun safety laws, climate change action, LGBTQ rights, prenatal care, mental health, universal preschool, child care and free school meals should be considered more pro-life than conservative states that restrict a woman's right to choose.
Newsom signed more than a dozen abortion protection and reproductive health bills in September, codifying key parts of the state's response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade.
With his support, lawmakers passed an amendment to enshrine abortion rights directly into California’s Constitution under Proposition 1, a measure designed in part with the goal of driving Democratic voters to the polls in November.
Another law required the state to create an abortion services website, which Newsom used to further his campaign to make California a haven for women in states with more restrictive abortion laws. The governor began promoting the website on billboards in other states, telling women before he had even signed the bill that California “will defend your right to make decisions about your own health."
The budget passed in June also included $200 million in new spending for reproductive healthcare services and outreach.
Dahle opposes abortion, which Newsom seized on in a campaign ad released days after the leak of a draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe.
Dahle has said that abortion services in California would remain safe if he’s elected because the Democratic legislative leadership would block any attempt at change. He said voters, not him, will decide on abortion rights with Proposition 1.
Unlike some conservatives, Dahle said he supports state policies promoting contraception.
L.A. Times editorial board's endorsements
The Times’ editorial page publishes endorsements based on candidate interviews and independent reporting. The editorial board operates independently of the newsroom — reporters covering these races have no say in the endorsements.
How and where to vote
Ballots will be in the mail to all 22 million registered voters in the state no later than Oct. 10. Californians can return ballots by mail, drop them at collection boxes or turn them in at voting centers. They can also cast ballots early at voting centers or wait until Nov. 8 to vote at their neighborhood polling places.
Californians can register to vote or check their status at https://registertovote.ca.gov/.
Follow more election coverage
California voters head to the polls Nov. 8 to vote for U.S. Senate, governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, controller, treasurer, attorney general, and races for U.S. representative in Congress, state senator and state assemblymember. Local races include who will be the Los Angeles mayor and L.A. County sheriff. There are seven ballot propositions for voters to decide on the table.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.