With backers of the recall against Gavin Newsom formally submitting the last of their petitions Wednesday, Democrats from California to Washington were readying what they hope will be a united front to keep the embattled governor in office.
Newsom’s campaign is trying to keep the party focused on fighting the recall and preventing prominent Democrats from getting into the race to replace him if it qualifies for the ballot as expected. He has racked up high-profile endorsements from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), among others, and hopes to tie the recall campaign to former President Trump and extremist groups. The governor went on a national media tour this week, speaking out against the recall and generating both cheers from supporters and some controversy.
But it’s still unclear whether any Democrats will enter the race to replace Newsom as an insurance policy against the growing field of Republican candidates, something that happened during the 2003 recall that ended with voters ousting Democrat Gray Davis and replacing him with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
While Democrats are united in keeping a “Trump Republican” out of the governor’s mansion, progressive caucus chair Amar Singh Shergill said some more left-leaning party members are waiting to see Newsom deliver on progressive policy promises such as a universal healthcare bill making its way through the state Legislature, a fracking ban and support for eliminating the filibuster in the U.S. Senate.
“If Gov. Newsom doesn’t get on board with these progressive issues and fight for them, then he’s going to put his own candidacy at risk. Right now, we’re not looking at any other candidates, but we know there’s a simple formula for him to win,” Shergill said. “He has got to start fighting for those issues and show us that he is making progress.”
The California Democratic Party has pledged $250,000 to the campaign against the recall and launched a website, stoptherepublicanrecall.com, that Newsom promoted in a tweet on Monday when making his most direct comments yet about his fight against the effort. Other Democrats echoed Newsom’s comments in condemning recall organizers as anti-vaxxers, QAnon conspiracy theorists and nationally funded Republicans.
“This was something that was done under the Republican Administration under the thumb of the Trump followers,” said Mark Gonzalez, chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party. “Republicans knew they were losing their power nationally, and they’re trying to trickle it down here to California, and now here under this administration.”
The governor’s handling of the pandemic remains a banner issue for recall advocates. Democratic leaders across the state are hopeful that by the time a recall election rolls around, likely in the fall, coronavirus cases will be down and the economy will be in better shape. California has already delivered more than 13 million vaccine doses, and the federal relief package just passed by Congress will help people’s wallets and bolster state and local budgets.
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In the eyes of some Democrats, Newsom stumbled Monday when he told MSNBC’s Joy Reid that, should California Sen. Dianne Feinstein retire, he would appoint a Black woman to replace her, noting that he already had a list of several Black women whom he would consider. Newsom came under pressure late last year to fill Vice President Kamala Harris’ seat with a Black woman, but instead appointed then-Secretary of State Alex Padilla, California’s first Latino senator.
Feinstein reiterated that she had no plans to retire and Newsom downplayed his statement the next day — but not before riling up some members of the state Democratic Party Women’s Caucus, who voiced their frustrations to chair Christine Pelosi that Newsom’s theorizing about the senator’s replacement before she left office was not a good way to start the anti-recall campaign.
“I would hope that they remember there are a lot of women who vote in the recall, and it’s not a very good look to pit women together to save the job of a man,” Pelosi said of those organizing Newsom’s campaign. Pelosi agreed that stopping a Republican from getting into office isn’t enough to galvanize voters, adding that grassroots organizers want to hear from the governor directly about what his message will be.
“Don’t just assume that because we’re Democrats and we’re Democratic delegates that you don’t have to ask us,” she said. “If you don’t respect us, don’t expect us.”
Supporters of the recall targeting California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday they submitted 2,117,730 signatures by the day's deadline, a number that appears to comfortably exceed the required threshold even if some are invalid.
The final submissions will keep 58 county elections officials busy verifying the signatures. Already, proponents have registered a validity rate approaching 84 percent, higher than normal for voter-driven campaigns. County registrars have until April 29 to verify that proponents have obtained nearly 1.5 million required signatures across the state.
For all intents and purposes, however, Newsom's Tuesday acknowledgment amounted to a campaign kickoff this week. His team has already launched ads and begun raising hundreds of thousands of dollars. One more Republican, former Rep. Doug Ose, this week joined former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and 2018 GOP gubernatorial candidate John Cox as candidates in the race.
The governor is seeking to tie the campaign to supporters of former President Donald Trump, who is deeply unpopular in California. Recall proponents, on the other hand, are trying to focus on intense frustration over Newsom's pandemic business closures and California lagging all other states in school reopening.
Republican recall strategist Dave Gilliard said in a tweet Wednesday that the petition signatories were “64.10% GOP; 25.30% NPP (No Party Preference); 9.00% Dem; 1.60% Other and 49.48% Female." He added that recall backers did not focus on Democratic voters, suggesting that those who signed sought petitions on their own.
Under state law, the recall ballot will ask voters two questions: Do they want to recall Newsom, and if so, whom do they want to replace him. Newsom cannot appear among the recall candidates, which leaves the door open for a Republican to win with a plurality of votes if the GOP can convince a majority of voters to oust the Democratic governor.
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If county registrars verify that enough signatures have been submitted, a number of different electoral processes must take place before the recall is actually set, according to the Secretary of State Shirley Weber's office. The state elections chief will have until May 9 to notify counties that the election has qualified, then will allow voters to withdraw their signatures from May 10-June 21.
While that recission process is allowed under state law, Democratic strategists have told POLITICO that it will likely be impossible for Newsom to find enough signatories to withdraw their support, given the number of voters who have backed the recall effort. Counties then have until July 6 to notify Weber if there are still sufficient signatures. The state Department of Finance will then have from July 6 to Aug. 17 to analyze recall costs, and the state legislature will have until Sept. 16 to weigh in on those costs and budget for the recall.
At that point, Weber will then officially certify signatures for the recall on Sept. 17, the same day the Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis will declare the actual date of the election. Experts expect it will fall somewhere between October and late November.
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