Attorney general: Incumbent Bonta, but which Republican?

California Attorney General Rob Bonta holds a news conference in April.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Early returns put incumbent Rob Bonta far ahead of the pack, with 56% of the vote. Vying for second place are Republican Nathan Hochman with 18% and Republican Eric Early with 16%. Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert was trailing with 8%.

There was very little doubt that Attorney General Rob Bonta would come first in this primary. The big question was always which of his three right-of-center challengers would come in second, earning the right to challenge him in November.

Alas, we still don’t know.

Sure enough, the partial returns put Bonta far ahead of the pack, with 56% of the vote. Vying for second place are Republican Nathan Hochman with 18% and Republican Eric Early with 16%. Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert was trailing with 8%.

The slim gap between Hochman and Early represents a familiar rift within the GOP. Hochman’s blue-chip resume, his seemingly moderate politics and his endorsement from the state GOP appeal to the pragmatically center-right. California voters haven’t elected a Republican statewide since 2006. If ever there was a GOP candidate who could appeal to independents and tired-as-hell Democrats to break that losing streak, the argument goes, it’s a guy like Hochman.

Early is well-known to red-meat Republican voters for his past electoral gambits. In 2018, he ran for attorney general; in 2020, he ran for Congress; and in 2021, he was one of the organizers behind the recall effort against Gov. Gavin Newsom. None of those efforts were successful, except that they helped the Los Angeles lawyer endear himself to the base. The question that still remains unanswered as the ballot tally continues: Is the base enough?

It’s clear what Bonta thinks. His campaign and his backers spent more than $1 million to “oppose” Early, presumably their preferred candidate, while also elevating his profile with voters. That’s a familiar electoral ploy in California.

What seems clear is that Schubert probably won’t be getting a promotion to statewide prosecutor. Not this year, anyway. A former Republican who became a political independent in 2018, her campaign embodied the idea that center-right politics can still play in California — so long as it’s divorced from the deeply unpopular Republican brand. She isn’t the first “no party preference” candidate to try. Now, she appears likely to join the ranks of those who failed.

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