TOAs the California governor’s impeachment effort heats up, Gavin Newsom is preparing to face a smorgasbord of political challengers, including a reality TV star, a former Facebook executive, a Los Angeles billboard model. and a Republican businessman who lost the last governor. race for 24 points.
California election officials are expected to verify in late April that Newsom’s opponents have collected enough signatures to force a withdrawal later this year, likely sometime in November.
But the political opportunity it offers has already attracted all kinds of “celebrities, billionaires and billionaires, horseflies,” as well as some serious contenders, said Fernando J. Guerra, a political scientist at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
So far, the race has drawn three traditional Republican candidates: John Cox, a businessman who lost to Newsom by 24 points in the last gubernatorial election, the largest margin in a California gubernatorial race since the 1950s), Kevin Faulconer, former mayor of San Diego. and Doug Ose, former representative of the United States.
Then there are all the others. Caitlyn Jenner, a former Keeping Up with the Kardashians star and Olympic champion, is working with former Trump campaign figures to plan a possible career. Porn actress and reality TV star Mary Carey, who faced Democrat Gray Davis in retirement in 2003, has also donned her hat. And Angelyne, the model who rose to fame in the 1980s after appearing on a series of iconic billboards around LA, is also running.
“All you really need to run is $ 4,200 for the filing fee and a dream,” said Joshua Spivak, principal investigator at the Hugh L Carey Institute for Government Reform who studies the recall elections. The 2003 recall election against Davis attracted 135 of those dreamers, including HuffPost founder Arianna Huffington, former child actor Gary Coleman and pornographer Larry Flynt. Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger won that year, in the first successful retirement of a United States governor.
The latest impeachment campaign, led by Republicans who opposed the governor’s business closures in the Covid era, as well as his immigration and tax policies, gained steam in the winter as California faced its most severe phase of the pandemic. But as the pandemic subsides and the economy shows promising signs of recovery, Newsom remains quite popular with Californians despite scandals and setbacks. He was elected to office in 2018 with a whopping 62% of the vote and a recent poll by the California Institute of Public Policy found that he is still quite popular. Fifty-six of the likely voters oppose the removal of the governor and 5% are not sure; only 40% would vote to remove the governor from office.
“I’m convinced Newsom is going to beat retirement,” Guerra said, although, he added, a stagnant economy or a major political blunder (say, a rerun of Newsom’s infamous dinner at the Michelin-starred French Laundry, at the height of the pandemic) could topple the governor from his strong position.
Among the challengers to the governor’s cast, a Democrat is notably missing. So far, the party has formed a united front, with moderates and progressives, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who backs Newsom. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned Democrats not to turn against one of their own, dismissing the idea of a Democratic rival for Newsom as an “unnecessary notion” that does not even rise “to the level of a idea”.
That hasn’t squashed speculation that former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who faced Newsom in 2018, could join the race. Former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya, a large Democratic donor who recently redirected his wealth toward the expansion petition to gather signatures for retirement, also He says wants to run. And Tom Steyer, the billionaire former hedge fund manager and climate change activist who ran in the Democratic presidential primary, is also considering the nomination.
A liberal candidate who did not outshine Newsom could serve as an insurance policy for the state’s Democrats, Guerra said. “A Democratic candidate would not get enough votes from Newsom in the recall, but it could beat Republicans if voters choose to eliminate Newsom could be strategic,” he said. “Because what if there are one or two scandals that drag Newsom down? With no other Democrat in the running, you stick with Caitlyn Jenner or John Cox as governor.”
But Spivak said that, based on the history of the revocations, Democrats would do well to avoid that strategy. In the 2003 recall, Davis Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante attempted the “No Revocation, Yes Bustamante” campaign line, and failed spectacularly. Bustamante outscored Schwarzenegger by 17 points. “And it killed his political career,” Spivak said. The Democrat dramatically sank his only other bid for political office since the recall, losing the 2006 election for insurance commissioner to a Republican by 12 points.
On the other hand, for Republicans hoping to gain a foothold in California’s deep blue, the only chance comes from the chaos and confusion of a crowded and messy election, Spivak said. “Republicans can’t win a regular, straight election, so having 400 candidates, including maybe some Democrats, running against Newsom helps them,” he said.
At a recall, voters are asked two questions: first, if they want to remove Newsom, and then who should replace him? If at least 50% of voters agree to remove Newsom from office, whichever opponent gets the most votes will replace him, even if they have collected a small fraction of the total ballots cast.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism