Californians Set to Decide Political Fate of Newsom in Fall Recall

Experts believe backers of the effort to recall Governor Gavin Newsom will have a steep hill to climb to oust him. 

In this 2020, file photo, California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference at the Veterans Home of California in Yountville, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, Pool, File)

(CN) — California Governor Gavin Newsom became the second governor in state history to face a recall vote after California Secretary of State Shirley Weber said Monday the required number of signatures had been verified.

Weber said county elections offices have counted 1,626,042 signatures as of Monday, about 200,000 more than the 1,495,709 required to trigger the recall. Counties have until April 29 to verify additional signatures.

“This now triggers the next phase of the recall process, a 30-business-day period in which voters may submit written requests to county registrars of voters to remove their names from the recall petition,” Weber said. “A recall election will be held unless a sufficient number of signatures are withdrawn.”

The verification means California will hold a special election where voters will be tasked with two questions: “Should Newsom be removed from office?” and “If yes, who should take his place?”

How likely is it that more than 50% will answer yes to the all-important first question?

“I wouldn’t bet on it right now,” said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College. “Things are looking up right now. Vaccinations are proceeding rapidly, the economy is doing okay and schools are reopening.”

Pitney believes the recall movement gained steam during the height of coronavirus restrictions imposed by the Newsom administration, particularly during the winter when the seasonal spike in cases prompted strict stay-at-home policies and the shuttering of outdoor dining. 

“I think every governor is groping in the dark when it comes to the coronavirus crisis,” Pitney said. “The question is whether there’s a greater political danger in being overly restrictive and hurting the economy or overly loose which gives way to more infections.”

Furthermore, Newsom was torched by his own poor decision-making, choosing to eat inside the swanky Napa Valley restaurant French Laundry while at the same time telling his constituents to stay home and avoid indoor gatherings. 

“It’s one of the few things ordinary people can tell you about Newsom,” Pitney said. 

And it’s the window that gave Republicans the idea they could unseat a Democratic governor in a state that is overwhelmingly blue. 

Randy Economy, a spokesman for RecallGavin2020, said unseating Newsom is totally possible because many Californians are tired of his high-handed method of governing.

“2.1 million Californians took to the streets to sign recall papers,” Economy said. “That’s never happened before.”

But experts believe the confidence Economy projects is waning or was perhaps misplaced at the outset. 

“Partisans are deeply divided when asked if they would vote yes to remove the Democratic governor,” Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California, wrote. “Among likely voters, 79% of Republicans would vote yes compared to 15% of Democrats. Fewer than half of independents (42%) would vote yes — consistent with their Democratic leanings.”

The institute has taken several polls of California voters and found that while Newsom’s support fell from its apex at the beginning of the pandemic when his approval rating hovered around 60%, it has not come down far enough to give the Democratic establishment in the state any pause. 

Newsom’s approval rating in the latest polls are in the low 50s, with a survey in March pegging it at 53%.  

“While Newsom’s approval rating has fallen from the record-high levels reached after Covid-19 struck, it has remained in positive territory,” Baldassarre said. 

Economy says polls are not reflective of the true temperature of the electorate, noting they failed to predict former President Donald Trump’s strong performance across the nation in the last two presidential elections.

“I know how to write a poll to get the answer I want,” Economy said. “One of the main polls is run by UC Berkeley. Well, UC Berkeley in no way represents the mainstream views of most Californians.”

Economy and other Republicans can take heart in the fact that the only other time a governor faced a recall, Democrat Gray Davis in 2003, he lost the recall vote and was replaced by a Republican. Pitney isn’t swayed.

“The problem with that is there is no Arnold Schwarzenegger this time around,” Pitney said. 

The most likely and viable candidates from the Republican side include John Cox, the businessman who ran and lost by a wide margin to Newsom in 2018, and Kevin Faulconer, the former mayor of San Diego. 

“Listen, unless you are a political junkie nobody north of Legoland can tell you who Faulconer is,” Pitney said. 

Schwartzenegger, on the other hand, was an international superstar who had also built credibility within political circles in California at the time of his challenge. 

“I think voters were excited to vote for Schwarzenegger,” Pitney said. 

And whether Californians will also be excited to vote for gold-medal Olympian-turned reality TV star — and transgender rights activist — Caitlyn Jenner, who announced her candidacy this past week, remains to be seen.

Economy said that while Faulconer does not have the name recognition, voters are more interested in ousting Newsom than mainstream commentators realize.

“It’s not our job to come up with a replacement and the people voting are not going to be the main focal points,” Economy said.

While French Laundry was undoubtedly a political mistake, it hardly compares to the massive rolling blackouts, soaring energy bills and stagnant state economy that plagued Davis at the time. 

Meanwhile, Davis won reelection by a narrow 5-point margin in 2002. Newsom won the governor’s seat in 2018 by 24 points. 

Newsom on Monday blasted the recall effort as racist.

“It is what it is. This is a Republican recall,” Newsom told CNN on Monday. “An RNC-backed Republican recall of white supremacists, anti-Semites and people who are opposed to immigration and immigrants is an accurate assessment of who’s behind this recall.”

California is one of 20 states that allow voters to recall its governor. 

To put a recall on the ballot, proponents must collect 12% of the signatures cast in the last gubernatorial election. In this case, proponents needed to collect 1,495,709 signatures, which they managed to do. 

Now the question becomes whether more than 50% of voters in the upcoming special election will vote to recall Newsom and if so, who will replace him.

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