California Democrats competing to be the state’s next governor unloaded on President Donald Trump, calling him a racist at a Saturday debate and casting doubt on whether they could work cooperatively with his administration.

At their first town hall event of the race, the candidates running to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown were asked about a disputed comment attributed to Trump deriding Haiti, El Salvador and African nations as “shithole countries.”

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa opened the 90-minute event saying he was surprised it took people so long to conclude Trump is a racist.

“He was calling Mexicans rapists and criminals. He was going after Muslims. He was comparing white supremacists with people protesting racism in our country,” said Villaraigosa, whose grandfather immigrated from Mexico. “How can I work with him? With great difficulty, obviously.

“Like so many people in this room, I am hoping he won’t be president by the time I am elected,” he added to applause at the University of Southern California. “But if he is, I intend to make it absolutely clear that California is going to mark a different path.”

Fellow Democrats Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor, and Delaine Eastin, a former state schools chief, flatly labeled Trump a racist, with Newsom calling it “pretty self-evident” based on the Republican president’s “own admission in terms of his words and his actions and his deeds.”

“The question for all of us is are we going to be the center of the resistance or are we going to be a positive alternative to the agenda being pushed by the Trump administration?” Newsom, the former San Francisco mayor, said.

Added Eastin: “My dad always said, ‘If it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck and it flies like a duck it’s a duck. Clearly, he’s a racist.”

Another Democrat, John Chiang, whose parents immigrated from Taiwan, said they overcame discrimination in the Chicago suburbs. Chiang, the state treasurer, said he would work with Trump “where we can,” but also would challenge Trump on issues like climate change, housing and health care.

Republicans on the town hall stage declined to characterize the president as harboring any prejudices. John Cox, a businessman, said his work history doesn’t afford him the luxury of calling people names. He reasoned that his line of work requires him to prioritize problem solving.

He wants to focus on quality-of-life issues in California, “not demonize the president.”

GOP Assemblyman Travis Allen, of Orange County, said the focus on Trump amounts to a deflection from the broader immigration issue. He believes Trump is trying to work with the GOP-led Congress to craft an immigration plan.

Concluded Allen: That’s “as opposed to the Democrats, who want to make this a perennial campaign issue and never solve the problem.”

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