Who Will Replace Gavin Newsom as California Governor in 2026?
California’s race for governor is expected to draw a large pool of contenders. As a heavily blue state, minds are already turning to determine which Democratic candidates will step forward to replace Newsom, who is term-limited and likely will be tapped to be a presidential candidate in the future.
Newsom has two more years to serve as governor before terming out. However, some contenders have already launched their 2026 gubernatorial campaigns, while others are considering whether to enter the race this early on. No Republicans have launched a campaign as of now.
Potential Democratic Candidates
- Rob Bonta
California Attorney General Rob Bonta is reportedly mulling a campaign launch for governor in 2026. Bonta has served as attorney general since 2021, when Newsom appointed him to the position. He won the 2022 election as well, securing a full term and receiving 57% of the vote. He told the San Francisco Chronicle that he is “seriously considering” a run for the Golden State’s top office and that several people had reached out to him asking for him to launch a campaign. If elected, Bonta would be the first Filipino American to serve as California’s governor.
- Eleni Kounalakis
Democratic Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis launched her campaign to become the state’s first female governor in April. She is the only gubernatorial candidate for the 2026 race. Right off the bat, Kounalakis received several high-profile endorsements, including one from former Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. Kounalakis received a Thursday endorsement from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who lauded the lieutenant governor’s work on abortion access, education, and the economy. Kounalakis became the first female lieutenant governor in California in 2018.
- Betty Yee
Former Democratic State Controller Betty Yee announced that she intends to run for governor when Newsom terms out, as she also hopes to be the first female governor of the Golden State. Yee served as state controller from 2015 to 2017, and she is now the vice chair of the California Democratic Party. She was elected twice to the California State Board of Equalization and served as the state’s budget director, according to the party website. She told FOX 40 in April that she was not ready to make an announcement, days after Kounalakis announced her campaign. Yee is expected to launch later this year.
Newsom has not weighed in on the state’s 2026 gubernatorial race or the fierce 2024 primary for the Senate seat presently held by Feinstein, who is retiring at the end of her term. Candidates running to replace Feinstein include Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Katie Porter (D-CA).
As Gov. Newsom’s tenure comes to an end, the race for California’s next governor is heating up. With a large pool of contenders expected to emerge, the potential Democratic candidates are already making headlines. From California Attorney General Rob Bonta to former Democratic State Controller Betty Yee, the competition is fierce. Democratic Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis has already launched her campaign to become the state’s first female governor and has received high-profile endorsements from former Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. As the race for governor unfolds, it will be interesting to see who emerges as the frontrunner to replace one of the nation’s most prominent Democrats in the Golden State.
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