LOS ANGELES (NewsNation Now) — California’s Tuesday recall election could remove first-term governor and Democrat Gavin Newsom from the state’s highest office.
The recall effort targeting Newsom began in February 2020, led by a group called the California Patriot Coalition. Collections increased in the fall and winter as anger intensified about Newsom’s handling of the pandemic, but thousands of signatures remain unverified by election officials.
Newsom saw his popularity continue to tumble throughout 2020 as the public unrest spread over long-running school and business closures, a still-unfolding unemployment benefits scandal and his decision to attend a party with friends and lobbyists at an opulent restaurant, while telling residents to stay home.
Newsom, a former lieutenant governor and San Francisco mayor, was elected governor in 2018 with almost 62% of the vote. He would be up for re-election in 2022.
Here’s how the election works:
WHAT IS A RECALL ELECTION?
California is one of 20 states that have provisions to recall a sitting governor, 19 through elections. The state law establishing the rules goes back to 1911 and was intended to place more power directly in the hands of voters by allowing them to remove elected officials and repeal or pass laws by placing them on the ballot.
Recall attempts are common in the state, but they rarely get on the ballot and even fewer succeed. The only time a governor was recalled was 2003, when Democrat Gray Davis was removed and voters replaced him with Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. A federal judge in late August rejected a lawsuit that sought to block the election on constitutional grounds.
HOW DOES THE ELECTION WORK?
California voters are being asked these two questions: Should Newsom be removed from office, yes or no, and who should replace him? They will choose from dozens of replacement candidates. If a majority of voters approve Newsom’s removal, the candidate who gets the most votes on the second question becomes governor. If Newsom is recalled, his replacement could be elected with just a fraction of the votes. With dozens of candidates dividing those ballots, it’s possible a winner could get 25% or less.
Forty-six candidates are on the ballot to replace Newsom, but it won’t matter who comes in first unless the effort to remove the first-term Democrat succeeds.
But if the recall fails, the question of who would replace him would be irrelevant.
WHO COULD REPLACE NEWSOM?
There are 46 names on the certified ballot, including former U.S. Rep. Doug Ose, who withdrew because of health reasons. The 24 Republican candidates include talk radio host Larry Elder; Kevin Faulconer, the former San Diego mayor; businessman John Cox, who was defeated by Newsom in 2018; Caitlyn Jenner, a reality TV personality and former Olympian; and Assemblyman Kevin Kiley.
There are nine Democrats, 10 independents, two Green Party members and one Libertarian. No Democrat with political stature decided to run — the best-known Democratic candidate is real estate agent and YouTube personality Kevin Paffrath. Most of the candidates are largely unknown and have not mounted credible campaigns.
Elder, who polls have leading the field of possible replacements, has promised to bring a fresh eye and common sense to Democratic-dominated Sacramento and has said he would swiftly lift state mask and vaccine mandates. Kiley has said he would immediately end the pandemic state of emergency, which would automatically wipe out all state and local orders issued under it.
WHAT IS NEWSOM SAYING ABOUT THE RECALL?
For months, Newsom steered around questions about a possible recall election, saying he wanted to focus on the coronavirus, vaccinations and reopening schools. But in March, he launched an aggressive campaign strategy and began running ads attacking the recall and doing national TV and cable interviews. The main committee opposing the recall had raised nearly $50 million by the end of July. Newsom has acknowledged that people were anxious and weary after a difficult year dealing with the virus and restrictions.
More recently, Newsom has focused his attacks on Elder, calling him more extreme in many ways than former President Donald Trump. Elder dismisses such criticism as a political ploy to divert attention from Newsom’s record on crime and homelessness.
The governor spent much of 2020 on the defensive. But he has benefited from a record state budget surplus that allowed him to tour the state to announce vast new spending programs, including $12 billion to fight homelessness; checks up to $1,100 for millions of low and middle-income earners who struggled during lockdowns; and $2.7 billion to pay for all of the state’s 4-year-olds to go to kindergarten for free.
Newsom himself has been warning the race is close, and Democrats fear many of their voters are shrugging at the contest while Republicans and conservatives are eager to vote.
Still, Newsom has an advantage over his GOP foes — California is one of the country’s most heavily Democratic states. Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by nearly 2-to-1, and the party controls every statewide office and dominates the Legislature and congressional delegation.
Republicans last won a statewide election in 2006, when Schwarzenegger was reelected.