To date, most of the rhetoric from all three candidates in the California governor's campaign has been focused on bread-and-butter issues: jobs, the economy, education, taxes, management of the state budget.
It's a very safe bet that more emotional, hot-button issues will eventually emerge. There was some tentative movement on that front at the Democratic convention on Saturday, initiated by Controller Steve Westly in his speech to delegates seeking their endorsement for governor.
In two, one-line passages he brought up both same-sex marriage and immigration.
On same-sex marriage: "I believe that any two people who want to get married should have the right to do it and not treated as second-class citizens."
On immigration: "I believe we should respect immigrants and give every immigrant a path to earn citizenship."
I asked Westly after the speech if he was breaking new ground, or merely expressing support for proposals in Congress that would grant paths to citizenship for illegal immigrants who have been in the United States for at least two years. He said that it would be the job of Congress to decide on a time limit, but that he supports the general concept. Then he slyly mused over whether his opponent had even bothered to mention the issue — cited by respondents in a Public Policy Institute of California poll released this week as the No. 1 issue they'd like to see candidates talk about.
"I don't recall whether my opponent even mentioned immigration today," Westly said. "Didn't he? Hmmm. How 'bout that?"
Westly clearly believes that he has a chance to do very well among Latino voters in the primary. There will be no running from the issue in the fall, so Westly seems to be taking the initiative to discuss the issue now, seeking an advantage over rival Phil Angelides.
Angelides, like Westly, supports same-sex marriages. Since Westly brought it up, I asked state Republican Party Chairman Duf Sundheim this afternoon whether he thought the issue would be a part of the fall campaign between the Democratic primary winner and GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Sundheim's answer was intriguing. It won't be an issue, he flatly predicted.
It won't be an issue, he suggested, because Schwarzenegger is "sensitive" to the rights of gays and lesbians. Eight years after the state GOP supported the successful Proposition 22, which said that marriage in California should be between "a man and a woman," Sundheim indicated the issue may not carry the political weight it once did. Voters, he said, "can respect people who come down on one side or the other on that issue."