Madd on Politics: 2022 California Statewide Elections 

By Maddon Hoh-Choi

California is a blue state. President Joe Biden got more than 11 million votes here in 2020 — the largest number of votes that a Presidential candidate has ever gotten from any state in American history. All of California’s statewide elected officials are currently Democrats, and moreover, Dems currently control 79% of California’s US House seats, 75% of the State Assembly seats, and 76% of State Senate seats. These are not signs that show large amounts of political competition. 

But could California’s cobalt blue status be vulnerable to a potential red wave? In this issue and other upcoming issues of The Shield, I will explore California’s 2022 elections. 

In a sign of Republican energization, the CAGOP has finally fielded enough candidates to run in every statewide race. The one statewide office with no Democratic incumbent running, the State Controller, is being targeted the most by state Republicans. Furthermore, the incumbent State Superintendent, Tony Thurmond, may have reason to be nervous about his reelection. 

Explainer: California has an open primary election, when all candidates, regardless of party, run to reach the general election. After the June 7th primary, only the candidates who got the most and second-most votes advanced to the general election. The general election is November 8th, and there will be races for Statewide office, Congress, State Legislature, Local office, and Ballot Propositions (See Madd on Politics: 2022 California Ballot Propositions for more info).

All 18 statewide candidates, Democrats and Republicans


SAFE = Close to a 100% chance of victory 

LIKELY= Heavily favored to win but an upset is theoretically possible

LEAN = Favored, but their opponent could win 

TOSSUP = Neither candidate is favored; either can win 

* = Incumbent 

Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA)

Senate: In early 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom appointed Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D) to replace former Senator Kamala Harris, who resigned to become Vice President. Padilla is California’s first Latino Senator, and the first from SoCal since 1992. Due to a quirk in state law, Padilla will be on the ballot twice this November, one for a special election to “finish” Harris’s old term, and another to run for a full, six-year term. He faces election attorney Mark Meuser (R) for both elections this November. Coincidentally, Padilla also faced Meuser when he won re-election as Secretary of State in 2018. It’s certain that Padilla will run up a 3-0 score against his old rival, and win a full term as Senator. 

RATINGS: SAFE Padilla* (D)

Governor Gavin Newsom (D)

Governor: Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is using his re-election campaign to boost his national profile, contrasting himself with Republican governors and recently getting into a Twitter spat with Alabama’s governor about education. While Newsom has vehemently denied planning on running for President in 2024 or ‘28, he has run ads in Texas and Florida comparing their GOP administrations with his own, causing the media to continually speculate on his potential candidacy.

Former Minority Leader of the State Assembly and current NorCal State Senator Brian Dahle (R) is Newsom’s opponent. In contrast to Larry Elder’s far-right campaign last year, Dahle is running as a more moderate Republican — vowing to cooperate with Democrats. Even so, with CA Dems energized by an abortion referendum on the ballot and Newsom having a solid approval rating among voters, the incumbent governor appears to be in no danger this November. 

RATING: SAFE Newsom* (D)

Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis (D)

Lieutenant Governor: Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis (D) made history this year when she became the first woman to sign a bill into law in California’s history, approving statewide eviction protections passed by the legislature. Kounalakis is also California’s first woman Lt. Governor.

As the Lt. Governor, Kounalakis is first in the governor’s line of succession, and has, in fact, hinted that she will run for Governor in 2026 — when Newsom is termed out. California is one of 19 states (and the only one on the West Coast) that has never had a female governor.

Her opponent this year is SoCal City Councilor Angela Underwood Jacobs (R), who drew headlines for suing facebook for allegedly radicalizing her brother’s killer. While Kounalakis had to run a competitive primary and general election campaign in 2018, she should easily defeat Jacobs and win a second term this year.

RATING: SAFE Kounalakis* (D)

Secretary of State Shirley Weber (D)

Secretary of State: Governor Newsom appointed SoCal Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D) to be the new Secretary of State after Alex Padilla resigned to become Senator. A daughter of a Black family who faced voter intimidation in the South, Weber often emphasizes her commitment to protecting voting rights. Weber is California’s first Black Secretary of State. She was actually the best performing statewide Democrat in the July open primary, winning with almost 60% of the vote.

Her Republican opponent, San Benito County GOP head Rob Bernosky (R), has resisted the false claims of election fraud that other Republican S.O.S. nominees have embraced. Still, Weber is expected to easily defeat Bernosky and win a full term as Secretary of State this November.  


Attorney General Rob Bonta (D)

Attorney General: It’s safe to say that Gov. Newsom got lots of appointments last year. After former A.G. Xavier Becerra was selected by the Biden administration to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, Newsom appointed another state legislator, Bay Area Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D), to be the new Attorney General. Bonta is California’s first Filipino Attorney General.

Housing advocates have praised Bonta’s work in enforcing the state’s housing laws, such as when he quickly shut down a wealthy Silicon Valley town’s attempt to avoid building apartments by claiming that it was a “mountain-lion habitat.

Though pundits speculated that Bonta could be vulnerable if his general election opponent was an independent candidate, that has not come to light. Bonta’s opponent is attorney Nathan Hochman (R), who has notably broken with his party in promising to protect abortion rights (which Bonta has also promised to do). Despite this, Bonta is still expected to beat Hochman and win a full term this November. 


Treasurer Fiona Ma (D)

Treasurer: State Treasurer Fiona Ma (D) easily won the June open primary by a large margin, despite allegations of sexual harassment. Perhaps because they believe that she is not beatable as an incumbent, the CAGOP seems uninterested in investing in this race — instead choosing to focus on the open-seat state controller race and down-ballot congressional races.

SoCal City Councilor Jack Guerrero (R) won the second-place spot, edging out Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do (R). Ma has a massive fundraising lead, with $2 million raised compared to Guerrero’s $10,000. Due to her large victory in the primary and the overall lack of interest among CA GOP in investing in this race, Ma is expected to easily win reelection against Guerrero. 


Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond (I/D)

Superintendent of Public Instruction: Tony Thurmond (I/D), the Superintendent of Public Instruction, is running for a second term. Like many superintendents across the country, he faced criticism last year for being perceived as not opening schools fast enough.

Since the superintendent is elected in a nonpartisan election, Thurmond would have won re-election outright if he got over 50% of the vote in the primary. However, unlike many of his Democratic colleagues, he got a somewhat underwhelming 46% of the vote. Thurmond’s opponent is education policy executive Lance Christensen (I/R), who has harshly criticized the California Teachers Association and the negative impacts of COVID-related policies in schools.

Christensen has low name recognition and meager campaign funds, but Thurmond’s underwhelming primary performance should be a reason for him to be nervous. In 2018, Thurmond narrowly defeated conservative Democrat Marshall Tuck by a narrow margin of 51-49. While having the backing of the CA Dem party and California’s Teachers Association — as well as having the benefit of incumbency — make him the favorite in this year, he’d better hope there aren’t any surprises near election day if he wants a second term. 

(Note: Thurmond is a registered Democrat, and Christensen is a registered Republican, but both won the Superintendent primary in a nonpartisan election. Hence, the (I/D) and (I/R) label)

RATING: LIKELY Thurmond* (I/D)

Controller Betty Yee (D)

Controller: The most competitive race this year thanks to State Controller Betty Yee (D) being out because of her term limit, this is the only statewide race that has no incumbent. The CAGOP had bet it all on this race — promoting their candidate, Lanhee Chen (R). Chen, a former Mitt Romney chief policy advisor and Obama administration official, had to walk a careful balance in the primary election, making sure to appeal to Republican voters while also avoiding any damaging statements that would hurt him with Democrats and Independents in the general election. Until he won the primary, Chen refused to say whether he voted for Trump or not, allegedly writing in Mitt Romney in 2016 and leaving his ballot blank in 2020. 

Lanhee Chen (R)

Nonetheless, Republicans are salivating at their first chance to win statewide in California since former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger left office in 2011. Compared to his Republican counterparts in the other statewide races, Chen has been the subject of much media attention, even being endorsed by the L.A. Times. I had the opportunity to meet Chen at an Asian American candidate fundraiser a few months back and he emphasized his plan to update the state’s aging computer system and increase accountability within the Controller’s Office. He faces former San Francisco Supervisor and current California Board of Equalization member, Malia Cohen (D). 

Chair of the California State Board of Equalization Malia Cohen (D)

On the campaign trail, Cohen has slammed Chen’s involvement with Republican campaigns that helped with the appointment of former President Trump’s Supreme Court judges. Chen has maintained that the Controller is solely involved with the state’s fiscal matters and that his past campaign work isn’t relevant to this election.

Despite all the media hype and enthusiasm from the CAGOP, it’s very unlikely that Chen will be able to flip this office. Though he was the only Republican running in the Controller primary, he got a measly 37% of the vote. While Chen hopes that state fiscal issues will be enough for voters to consider a change, it’s likely that national issues and a toxic GOP brand among California voters will sink his campaign. Cohen is hoping that outrage over the overturn of Roe will pull her campaign to victory, and she’s probably right in that assessment. Cohen is definitely favored to win the election in November, but an upset is still within the realm of possibility. 


Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara (D)

Insurance Commissioner: Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara (D) made history in 2018 when he was elected as California’s first openly gay statewide official. He somewhat narrowly defeated Republican-turned-Independent Steve Poizner (I) by a 53-47 margin that year.

This year, he faced a serious challenge from a fellow Democrat, Bay Area Assemblyman Marc Levine (D). However, by a razor-thin margin of 0.1%, businessman Robert Howell (R) beat Levine for the second-place position. While Lara has faced criticism for previously taking donations from the insurance industry (which he regulates as the Commissioner), he should ultimately win reelection by a solid margin. 

Conclusion: A toxic brand caused by unpopular policy positions from the national GOP certainly doesn’t help California Republicans connect with a liberal statewide electorate. Moreover, the state party is more invested in flipping several Democratic-held House seats in Congressional elections, rather than winning statewide office. 

The Golden State probably isn’t going red anytime soon.