The first candidate to show up at Gavin Newsom's campaign rally Monday was not Gavin Newsom. It was Abel Maldonado, Newsom's Republican opponent in the hard-fought lieutenant governor's race.
At about 11:30 a.m. Monday, Maldonado strolled into Café de Camacho, a coffee shop near Olvera Street where Newsom was set to speak alongside a group of influential Latino leaders, including civil rights activist Dolores Huerta and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
The cafe was packed with Newsom supporters holding blue Newsom campaign signs. They looked on in confusion as Lt. Gov. Maldonado, dressed in a gray suit and alligator boots, ordered a cup of coffee and settled down with several advisors at a table near the back of the restaurant.
When asked what they were doing there, an aide for Maldonado said: “Just getting coffee. We were a little thirsty.”
In a race that has seen scathing attack ads and debates that seem like shouting matches, Maldonado’s surprise appearance Monday was a bold move. And although the candidates avoided any direct confrontation, there were plenty of awkward moments.
Take Villaraigosa’s introduction of Newsom, who had been greeted by a cheering crowd when he arrived about 11:50 a.m. (and who had studiously avoided eye contact with Maldonado).
“We welcome the lieutenant governor!” Villaraigosa began -- before correcting himself. “The next lieutenant governor of the great state of California.”
Maldonado, munching on a banana muffin, grinned.
The event Monday came one day after Newsom picked up a critical endorsement from La Opinion, the state’s largest Spanish-language newspaper, and four days after the Los Angeles Times published an article that cited a history of safety violations at Maldonado’s family farm in Santa Maria.
Speaking sometimes in Spanish, the speakers Monday called on Latinos to support the San Francisco mayor.
“What do we want?" asked Maria Elena Durazo of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. “Do we want someone with a Latino last name? Or do we want someone who delivers for the Latino community?”
She praised Newsom for supporting the Dream Act, declaring San Francisco a “sanctuary city,” and implementing universal healthcare in his city.
Maldonado listened but at one point leaned in to talk to his advisors. At that point a young union organizers strode over to the group, put her finger to her lips and whispered, "Shhh!"
When Newsom took the microphone, he derided Maldonado’s record on immigration issues, saying Maldonado supported Proposition 187, a 1994 ballot measure that would have prohibited illegal immigrants from using health care, public education and other social services. Maldonado has denied that he supported that initiative.
Newsom never spoke directly to Maldondo. After a 10-minute stump speech, he bade farewell to the crowd.
“Thank you again, all of you, for taking the time out of your busy day to be here," Newsom said.
Maldonado smiled and took another sip of coffee.
-- Kate Linthicum