SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Housing, immigration, gas taxes and other issues were on the agenda Tuesday as the six leading candidates for California governor debated the issues ahead of next month's primary.
Democrats pledged to stand up to Republican President Donald Trump and provide help to the homeless while Republicans said they'd cut taxes and regulations and fighting "sanctuary" policies on immigration.
Gov. Jerry Brown last year signed a law restricting when law enforcement can cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
"This is federal law," said John Cox, a Republican businessman from San Diego. "This is like George Wallace standing in front of a school house in Alabama and saying he's not going to respect federal law."
Democrats said the state must stand up for young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
"I think we need to acknowledge that the Dreamers didn't come here on their own," said Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa, the former mayor of Los Angeles. "They came here because their parents brought them here, and we've got to say that they have a right to have a legalized status."
Republicans differed over their competing efforts to repeal the state's recent gas tax increase. Cox and Huntington Beach Assemblyman Travis Allen both claimed to be the strongest opponent of the 12-cent-per-gallon increase approved by the Legislature last year.
Allen said he was the first to launch an initiative drive against the gas tax. Cox said his initiative was the only one to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. Elections officials are currently verifying the validity of those signatures to see whether voters will decide the issue in November.
The debate got personal at times, with Allen twice calling Cox "angry."
All the candidates are on the same ballot in the June 5 primary and the top two, regardless of party, advance to the general election in November.
Polls show Democrat Gavin Newsom with a commanding lead, and the contest has become a battle for the second slot. With millions of mail ballots already on their way to voters, time is running short for the candidates to win over new voters.
The debate was televised statewide and moderated by Chuck Todd, host of NBC's "Meet the Press."
It was perhaps the last best chance for candidates trailing Newsom to break out or change the dynamics of a race that has played out largely under the radar as California's elected leaders focused on fighting Trump's agenda.
Newsom has declined all other debate invitations ahead of the primary.
An April poll by the Public Policy Institute of California showed Newsom supported by 26 percent of likely voters. Cox was second at 15 percent, followed by Antonio Villaraigosa at 13 percent and Allen at 10 percent.
Democrats John Chiang and Delaine Eastin were in the single digits while 22 percent of voters said they were undecided in the survey of the 867 likely voters. The poll had a margin of sampling error rate of 4.4 percent.
Another hot topic in the debate was personal misbehavior, including past adultery scandals and harassment complaints.
Newsom and Villaraigosa say they learned and grew from past adultery scandals.
Also during the debate, Republican Assemblyman Travis Allen dismissed a harassment complaint filed against him as a minor issue ginned up by Democrats. He then called out Newsom for having an affair while he was mayor of San Francisco, saying "If you can't trust Gavin with his best friend's wife how can you trust him with your state?"
Newsom responded that Allen is a devout supporter of President Donald Trump, who's been accused of sexual harassment.
Candidates for CA governor spar in debate