Election results: Democrat Rob Bonta clear frontrunner in California attorney general race
California Attorney General Rob Bonta had a big lead in early ballot returns Tuesday in his race to win a full four-year term after Gov. Gavin Newsom last year picked him to fill an unexpired term as the most populous state’s top lawman.
Bonta was outpolling Republican challenger Nathan Hochman with 60.2% of the votes after 56.2% of precincts had partially reported Tuesday night. It was not a surprise in a state dominated by Democrats.
Bonta thanked voters for their “vote of confidence” and said he is readying to battle potentially renewed Republican influence at the federal level, much as when his predecessor filed dozens of lawsuits challenging initiatives by then-president Donald Trump.
With Trump signaling that he could soon announce a run to regain the office in 2024, Bonta criticized the former president’s “legacy of lawlessness” that he said has “left a wound that continues to deepen.”
“What is next for our nation remains unknown, but what is known is that no matter what happens in Washington, D.C., no matter what radical Republicans try to throw our way in state houses, your Attorney General will go to court, sue, and fight back,” Bonta said in prepared remarks.
Because Bonta, 50, was appointed more than midway through his predecessor’s four-year term, he’s eligible to run for two additional full terms, which could allow him to serve nearly 10 years in an office that already has given him a national stage on issues as diverse as abortion, climate change, gay rights and gun control.
The job has launched the careers of many of those who have held it.
Bonta took over when Xavier Becerra left to become the Biden administration’s health secretary. Becerra had succeeded Kamala Harris, who went on to the U.S. Senate and now is vice president. Edmund “Pat” Brown became governor, and his son, Jerry, won the post and then became governor again more than three decades after first holding the job. Earl Warren went on to become the U.S. Supreme Court's chief justice.
Bonta's wife, Mia, in turn won a special election last year to replace her husband in a San Francisco Bay Area state Assembly district where nearly 70% of voters are Democrats. Her election made the pair one of the state's top power couples.
The state’s first Filipino-American attorney general is a particularly hot draw at events featuring the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, which makes up about 16% of California’s nearly 40 million residents.
Hochman, a former federal prosecutor, tried to tap into voter anger over rising crime and homelessness, decrying what he called the state's "spiral of lawlessness.” He had more campaign cash than all but one other GOP statewide candidate, but concentrated his TV advertising in the Los Angeles area with one commercial trying to tie Bonta to progressive L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón and another featuring an endorsement by a co-founder of Death Row Records.
A spokesman for Hochman didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on early ballot returns.
Bonta released a single online ad two weeks before Election Day that never mentioned Hochman but emphasized Bonta's defense of reproductive rights. He also announced forming a California Reproductive Rights Task Force along with 14 local law enforcement officials to confront abortion restrictions in other states and protect access and privacy in California.
Yet Hochman said he too favors abortion rights and supported the measure on Tuesday’s ballot that would enshrine them in California’s constitution.
Meanwhile, Bonta aggressively used his incumbency to introduce himself to unfamiliar voters.
He recently stood before a large, colorful mural depicting a victim of a deadly shooting to announce that he was creating a first-in-the-nation Office of Gun Violence Prevention within his state Department of Justice. The office, Bonta said, represents “a paradigm shift,” and aims to “prevent gun violence from happening in the first place.”
Bonta was backed by more than a dozen gun control advocates and gun violence survivors, along with his wife. She had sought to create the office and declare gun violence a public health crisis through legislation that died in an Assembly committee in May — so her husband did it by administrative fiat.