A baby blue bus rolls up to a Sacramento child care center, and out comes Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom clad in a black cape, a Batman mask obscuring half his face and an Orange plastic jack-o’-lantern in one hand.
“The things we do for votes,” says Newsom, a Democrat and the front-runner in Tuesday’s election for California governor, before handing out Halloween candy to a shark, a Batman, a fire man, a princess and a variety of Disney characters.
Rounding up votes is the singular focus for Newsom and his Republican rival, businessman John Cox as they make a final push to win over undecided voters and ensure their supporters cast a ballot.
Both are rolling through the state in brightly colored buses, stopping for selfies and rallying their party’s faithful in California’s major media markets.
“It’s nice seeing (politicians) acting like regular people, seeing the human side” said Denae Pruner, a 33-year-old state worker in Sacramento, said as Newsom handed out candy Wednesday. Her 1-year-old daughter dressed as an angel squirmed in her arms.
With much of the nation gripped by the fight for control of the U.S. House, so too are the candidates for governor in a race that’s often taken a backseat to the congressional races that will determine whether Democrats gain the power to investigate President Donald Trump and thwart his legislation.
The Newsom and Cox campaigns are both steering their buses toward the state’s most hotly contested congressional districts in Southern California and the Central Valley to campaign with the candidates there.
Cox began his final push Thursday with an early morning interview with a conservative radio host in Sacramento. Without the money to match Newsom’s avalanche of television ads, Cox is looking for free opportunities to reach his supporters.
He expressed confidence, despite polls showing him with a double-digit deficit. As people get to know him, he said, they’ll like what they see.
“People are ready for change,” he told reporters outside the radio station before hopping on his lime-green bus for a trip to Vallejo, then Santa Barbara.
For his closing argument, he’s sticking with a message he’s been hammering for months — California is too expensive, and it’s the fault of politicians and interest groups invested in keeping it that way.
“The cost of living has just been so elevated by the political class that people can’t afford it,” Cox said told reporters.
For Newsom, the final pitch is focused on educating children in the first three years of life and on his pledge to stand up to Trump. He’s has largely ignored his rival, focusing his attacks on the president.
When he was done handing out candy Wednesday, it was time to the talk to the press. Newsom removed his mask and changed from a Batman T-shirt to a pressed shirt and blue coat, the costume of a politician. He wasn’t keen on the television image of him talking about the serious issues confronting California while dressed like a superhero.
“A bully calls you out, you gotta push back,” he said of Trump. “We don’t have to be navel gazing. We’re not a small isolated state. This is California.”
Despite his pricey proposals, from universal health care to a big boost in spending for early-childhood education, he insisted he’ll maintain the fiscal discipline for which outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown is known.
“I’m not profligate,” he said repeatedly. “I’m committed to prioritizing.”
Cox scoffed at that idea, saying the state already has a bloated budget.
“The people of this state want change, they want an end to tax and spend,” he said. “They want a chance to have a nice house and that’s what I’m going to be talking about.”
Polling has showed Newsom with a comfortable lead — 49 percent to 38 percent in a Public Policy Institute of California survey last month, with a 3.6 point margin of error. He’s also in much better shape to reach voters, with a whopping $15 million in the bank on Oct. 20, compared with Cox’s $570,000, according to their most recent campaign finance reports.
Cox is targeting cable television, online streaming services and radio. He’s also done a number of one-on-one interviews with local television stations.
An independent group — whose donors include Los Angeles developer Geoff Palmer, venture capitalist Floyd Kvamme and his wife, Jean Kvamme — has bought digital ads with inflammatory messages. One criticizing a San Francisco needle exchange program ends, “Gavin Newsom for Governor? Are you on crack?”