Gavin Newsom’s Opponents: Who Are They?
California’s governor, who was once one of the most successful in the world, is up for re-election. Take a look at what transpired.
California’s top government jobs have proven to be the ideal launchpad for Democratic officials seeking higher office.
Kamala Harris went from representing California in the Senate to becoming Vice President this year. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla was chosen to succeed Ms. Harris. And Xavier Becerra, the state’s attorney general, resigned to become Vice President Joe Biden’s secretary of health and human services — a major role in any administration, but particularly so in one focused on combating the coronavirus pandemic and improving the Affordable Care Act.
However, there is one notable exception to this pattern, and it occurs at the highest levels of state government. Gov. Gavin Newsom, 53, who had one of the brightest prospects of any Democratic politician in the country less than a year ago, is struggling to retain his job amid a predominantly Republican-led recall campaign that has now gathered more than two million signatures.
If about 1.5 million of those signatures are found to be valid, the state will proceed with a recall election to replace the governor. In the case of a recall election, about a half-dozen candidates have already filed to run.
One way to determine the level of danger is to: Yesterday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke out in an effort to rally the Democratic Party behind Mr. Newsom. She called the recall campaign “an excessive notion” and said, “I don’t think it even rises to the level of an idea.”
The general population, on the other hand, has a different opinion. California voters are divided on whether or not to recall Mr. Newsom, according to a survey released this week by the nonpartisan firm Probolsky Research. Recalling him was approved by 46% of voters, while it was opposed by 46%. That isn’t overwhelming support, but it is a good indicator that Mr. Newsom is in trouble and will have to fight hard to prevent a recall vote if one is called.
How did Mr. Newsom, who was one of the most famous governors in the United States during the early months of the pandemic, end up here?
Last spring, he reaped the benefits of his aggressive response to the pandemic, positioning himself as a counterweight to President Donald Trump by enacting a complex, regionally specific series of lockdown restrictions aimed at containing the virus. According to some polls at the time, he had the support of more than four out of five voters in the heavily Democratic state.
However, he has been buffeted by outrage over the complicated regulations that have left many Californians perplexed and uneasy, as well as sorrow over the wildfires that devastated the state this summer. And his personal conduct has reeked of political privilege to many voters: He was rumored to be sending his children to an in-person private school while the state’s public schools remained online-only in November, when he attended a high-priced indoor birthday party for a lobbyist friend. As a result, many voters’ dissatisfaction turned to indignation. His approval rating had slipped below 50% by the end of last month.
A lot can still change in the future: If the recall effort’s organizers meet the required signature threshold, the vote to recall Mr. Newsom and elect his replacement — all on a single ballot — is unlikely to take place before the end of the year.
Orrin Heatlie, a conservative and former Yolo County Sheriff’s Department sergeant, is leading the recall campaign. He recently posted anti-vaccination and anti-L.G.B.T.Q. opinions online. However, the effort has the support of a number of well-funded political action committees, the majority of which are right-leaning.
Randy Economy, a political analyst and talk-radio host, is the lead adviser for Recall Gavin Newsom, the campaign’s organizer. He said that the governor’s behavior and demeanor necessitated the recall. In an interview, Mr. Economy said, “It’s because of Gavin Newsom himself, and the way he conducts himself every day since he became governor.” “It’s all been more about his reputation and self-promotion than solving the problems.”
Mr. Newsom’s approval rate isn’t as bad as Gov. Gray Davis’s in 2003, when he was recalled by voters. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who ran as a moderate Republican and won the recall election, went on to serve as governor of California for more than seven years.
California politics are different now than they were 18 years ago, and they are decidedly more Democratic. In terms of voter registration, Democrats now have a 2-to-1 advantage across the state. Just because a Republican-led campaign is underway does not guarantee that a Republican would benefit in the end. Mr. Economy, who volunteered for Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016 but has also worked for Democrats, maintained that his group’s objective was not political.
“Our task is to make sure that this governor is recalled and removed from office, not to select the next governor,” he said.
There aren’t many influential (let alone popular) Republicans in the state, and some ambitious Democrats are already lining up to run through the open door. All of this suggests a potential irony: Even if it is only the second successful recall campaign in California history, the effort, which is being led by conservative interests, has the potential to lift up another Democrat, probably one to Mr. Newsom’s left.
According to Politico, Tom Steyer, a billionaire who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination last year, has done his own research to see if Californians would vote for him in an election if Mr. Newsom were recalled. Former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa recently called for California schools to reopen immediately, ignoring Mr. Newsom’s cautious approach. The news seemed to be perceived by the governor’s team as a declaration of war.
Mr. Newsom’s near ally, Shane Goldmacher, responded to a Twitter post by our reporter last week. “My old friend Antonio will disgrace himself and forever poison his reputation if he runs,” Sean Clegg responded.
Threats and bullying were ineffective in New York, where most of the state’s top Democrats came out against Gov. Andrew Cuomo this month after a series of sexual harassment claims. However, he has managed to keep his position by adamantly refusing to resign.
Mr. Newsom’s biggest concern is whether he can reclaim the public’s confidence in time to keep his Democratic allies from turning against him. That was the message Ms. Pelosi wanted to get across at her press conference yesterday. “I think the governor will win this decisively,” she predicted, “and we’ll all support him.”
Have you ever had to wait in long lines to vote?
Georgia Republicans made it illegal to give food or water to voters in line to cast ballots as part of an expansive new law focusing on voting restrictions.
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