The first candidate to show up at Democrat Gavin Newsom's campaign rally Monday was not Gavin Newsom. It was Abel Maldonado, Newsom's Republican opponent in the lieutenant governor race.
At 11:30 a.m., Maldonado strolled into Cafe de Camacho, a coffee shop near Olvera Street where Newsom was set to speak alongside a group of Latino leaders, including civil rights activist Dolores Huerta and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
The cafe was packed with Newsom supporters holding blue 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.
They had just come from an event in Monterey Park, about eight miles away. When asked what they were doing at the coffee shop, a Maldonado aide said: "Just getting coffee. We were a little thirsty."
In a contest marked by scathing attack ads and shrieking debates, Maldonado's surprise appearance was a bold move. And although the candidates avoided any direct confrontation, there were awkward moments — among them Villaraigosa's introduction of Newsom, who avoided eye contact with Maldonado when he arrived to loud cheers around 11:50.
"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.
Although he listened quietly during most of the rally, at one point Maldonado leaned in to talk with his advisors. That prompted a young union organizer to stride over to the group, put her finger to her lips and whisper, "Shhh!"
Speaking sometimes in Spanish, those who addressed the packed house called on Latinos to support Newsom.
"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 declaring San Francisco a "sanctuary city," for implementing universal healthcare there and for supporting the Dream Act, which would allow undocumented students a path to legalization.
Over the weekend, Newsom won the endorsement of La Opinion, the state's largest Spanish-language newspaper. Maldonado, asked about the endorsement Monday, said his campaign plans to ramp up its outreach to Latino voters.
"I'm not going to take the Latino vote for granted," he said.
At the cafe on Monday, Newsom said "the Latino community needs better" than Maldonado.
In a fiery speech, he attacked Maldonado for backing a measure that ended bilingual education and for "standing side by side with Gov. Pete Wilson" in support of Proposition 187, the controversial 1994 ballot measure intended to bar illegal immigrants from using healthcare, public education and other social services.
Maldonado's campaign manager, Brandon Gesicki, said later that Maldonado voted against both Proposition 187 and the initiative to end bilingual education.
"Clearly Newsom invents facts as he goes," Gesicki said.
After speaking for 10 minutes, Newsom bade farewell to the crowd. His aides said he had to catch a plane to Sacramento to make an afternoon campaign event.
"Thank you again, all of you, for taking the time out of your busy day to be here," Newsom said.
Maldonado, seated in front of a "Newsom for California" campaign poster, smiled and took another sip of his coffee.