Villaraigosa has an issue where he can do that. He has long fought with teachers' unions, something no progressive would ever do. And it's a great issue to veer away from Democratic orthodoxy. In the private sector unions are pitted against big "evil" corporations that don't care about their workers, only profits. Customers have little to no allegiance to the corporation and aren't really hurt if the union wins concessions.
Teachers' unions are up against the government. That's not some evil faceless corporation. That's you and me. The "customers" aren't car buyers or hotel guests. They're our kids. We might not side with hotel guests over hotel workers but we're going to side with our kids if we feel that what's good for the teachers isn't the best choice for our kids. Teachers' unions push that everything they want is what's best for the kids, but their needs, higher pay, job security, don't necessarily coincide with what's best for the kids.
Even a union representative will admit that.
“I don’t think he saw it as being anti-union in any way, but being sensitive to kids like he was, and for us to block the kinds of reforms he was supporting was doing a disservice to those kids,” said Pechthalt. “I would disagree with him but I don’t think it necessarily came from a bad place.”Democrats and teachers' unions have painted Antonio Villaraigosa as anti-union and not sufficiently progressive. They'll do so in the gubernatorial election. That's normally a death knell to Democrats in elections but it actually is a benefit for Villaraigosa. He isn't going to win votes as the progressive champion. If Villaraigosa is to win votes from progressives it'll be with progressives who might see him as more competent or want a Latino governor.
Neel Kashkari was an unknown running against a California legend and spent very little money. He still got 40% of the gubernatorial vote. If Villaraigosa were to get 80% of the Kashkari vote he'd need to get about 30% of the Jerry Brown vote to win. Villaraigosa would need to position himself well. He needs to turn union support for Newsom into Newsom being in the pocket of special interests and being anti-student. He'll be criticized for Republicans supporting him. He needs to say, "they're Californians too and I want to be the governor for all Californians."
Top two would enable the more centrist candidate to win the election.