Has Obama endorsed in the California governor’s race? No.

Former President Obama is prominently featured in a campaign mailer for California gubernatorial candidate Antonio Villaraigosa. But he hasn't endorsed anyone in the race.
Former President Obama is prominently featured in a campaign mailer for California gubernatorial candidate Antonio Villaraigosa. But he hasn't endorsed anyone in the race.
PolitiFact California is fact-checking claims by candidates in the 2018 governor's race.
PolitiFact California is fact-checking claims by candidates in the 2018 governor's race.

A recent campaign mailer and TV ad feature former President Barack Obama warmly embracing California candidate for governor Antonio Villaraigosa, conveying the possible impression that Obama has endorsed the former mayor of Los Angeles.

But that’s simply not the case.

Obama hasn’t made any endorsements in the campaign, according to spokeswoman Katie Hill. She declined to say whether Obama might make an endorsement later on or comment on the ads.

The mailer and TV ad were paid for by Families & Teachers for Antonio Villaraigosa for Governor, an independent expenditure group funded largely by wealthy charter school advocates, including Netflix founder Reed Hastings, former New York City mayor Michael Blomberg, and a Los Angeles-based philanthropist Eli Broad.

The group has raised nearly $14 million and produced numerous ads supporting Villaraigosa.

The mailer includes a large photo of Obama and Villaraigosa, smiling and hugging. It also includes a quotation attributed to Obama calling Villaraigosa "one of America’s finest mayors."

We found a Washington Post article from July 2008, when then Sen. Obama, did make that statement.

It also accurately states that Villaraigosa served on Obama’s economic transition team in 2008 and lists other elements of Villaraigosa’s biography, including his role as speaker of the California Assembly.

The 15-second TV ad includes several images of Obama and Villaraigosa embracing, shaking hands and fist-bumping as the former president, in undated video footage, says, "At the heart of what Mayor Villaraigosa is doing today, he’s fighting to make this country more equal and more just."

Villaraigosa served as mayor of Los Angeles from July 2005 to July 2013. 

A narrator adds: "President Obama called him one of America’s finest mayors. Endorsed by the LA Times. Antonio for Governor."

This TV ad was paid for by Families & Teachers for Antonio Villaraigosa for Governor, an independent expenditure group.

Villaraigosa is in a tight race to be one of two candidates to emerge from the June 5 all-party primary and make it to the November general election. Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has consistently led the race in the polls and in fundraising. Other prominent candidates include Republicans John Cox, a San Diego businessman, and Orange County Assemblyman Travis Allen. The other two prominent Democrats are State Treasurer John Chiang and former State Superintendent of Instruction Delaine Eastin.

‘Might be implicitly misleading’

Kim Nalder, a political science professor at Sacramento State who studies campaign advertisements, reviewed the mailer and offered her impressions.

She said it is likely to be effective for Villaraigosa because Obama remains popular among Democrats in California, adding that voters quickly absorb visual images.

There’s no explicit mention of an endorsement. But Nalder said, "most voters won’t make that distinction," and will assume Obama supports Villaraigosa for governor.

"It’s not explicitly misleading," she added. "But I think it might be implicitly misleading."

There’s also no explicit mention of an endorsement in the TV ad.

A spokesman for the group that paid for the ads said it did not intend to imply an endorsement.

"Our intent in this introductory mailer is to communicate to voters Villaraigosa’s incredible record of results as Mayor and as former Speaker," Josh Pulliam wrote in an email. "The Obama quote validates and substantiates our most important claim, that Antonio Villaraigosa not only served as mayor of Los Angeles, but that Antonio was one of the best mayors in America."

Nalder said it’s common for campaigns to juxtapose their candidates with popular figures. A campaign supporting Democrat Marshall Tuck, who is running for superintendent of public instruction, also recently produced a mailer with Obama seated next to Tuck in a meeting, though the former president hasn’t endorsed in that race, either.

‘Deep respect’ for the president

Luis Vizcaino, Villaraigosa’s campaign spokesman, declined to address the mailer specifically, referring questions to the group that paid for it.

He added in an email that Villaraigosa is proud to have worked with Obama and has "deep respect and admiration for the former President."

PolitiFact California will continue to examine these and additional claims in TV ads, mailers and on social media during the California governor’s race. Suggest a fact check at politifactca@capradio.org, or contact us on Twitter or Facebook.

Visit our "Tracking the Truth" project to see all our fact checks in the 2018 California governor’s race.