Politico

A radio host, a YouTuber and a guy with a bear. Meet California's top recall contenders.


OAKLAND — When California voters get their recall ballots in three weeks, they’ll find 46 candidates vying to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom. Just a handful have any shot at rising to the top.

The Democratic governor asserts the recall is driven by Republicans aligned with former President Donald Trump. He says they’re using the state’s unusual recall process to replace him with a Republican in this liberal state — and he hopes that argument is persuasive in a state where Trump has been unpopular.

The GOP hasn’t won a governor’s race in California since 2006, but the party sees an opening this year amid lingering resentment over pandemic closures and job losses. More than half of recall replacement candidates are Republicans, and they’ve tried to keep the focus on California’s problems under Newsom rather than the former lightning rod president.

Newsom has been favored for months to keep his job. But a Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll, co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times, showed Tuesday that Democratic apathy could undermine the governor if he and his allies can’t convince their supporters to vote. Republicans are highly motivated to participate, while Democrats and independents are less excited about the election.

The governor’s campaign is “going to have to get people to return those ballots and they’re going to have to do it in a situation where, even among his best supporters, there’s frustration with life and Covid and the challenges we’ve had as a state,” said Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data, Inc. and an expert on voter turnout.

Counties will mail ballots to voters the week of Aug. 16, four weeks ahead of the Sept. 14 election. Voters will see two questions on the ballot. First, whether they want to recall Newsom. Second, whom they’d replace him with if a majority removes him.

Here are the top contenders should Newsom get recalled:

Larry Elder (R): The longtime conservative talk show host almost didn’t make the ballot when the secretary of state’s office rejected Elder on the basis that he had improperly redacted tax returns. But a judge sided with Elder at the last minute and ordered California to reinstate him. Elder has a preexisting base and solid name recognition from his years on the airwaves, particularly in Southern California. That shows in the hundreds of thousands of dollars that have flowed into his campaign since he declared and his enthusiastic embrace by figures like Megyn Kelly.
Berkeley/LAT Poll: 18 percent
Fundraising: $705,000
More: Conservative talk show host Larry Elder announces recall bid on radio

Kevin Faulconer (R): The former San Diego mayor entered the race with the reputation of being the Republican establishment’s choice. Endorsements from Republican elected officials and donations from regular party donors have cemented that perception. Faulconer has built his campaign on the premise that his win in diverse, populous San Diego demonstrates he is the only Republican capable of winning statewide by pulling in centrists like disaffected voters with no party preference. While he voted for former President Donald Trump, Faulconer rejected some of Trump’s conservative positions on issues like immigration.
Berkeley/LAT Poll: 10 percent
Fundraising: $933,000 plus $210,000 in a ballot committee
More: Faulconer outdraws GOP rivals as Newsom dominates recall money race

John Cox (R): A 24-point loss to Newsom in 2018 has not deterred the businessperson and perennial candidate from taking another shot. He has sunk $7 million of his own money into a campaign that has been heavy on gimmicks: a live, 1,000-pound bear and a giant ball of trash as campaign props. Unlike Faulconer, Cox has enthusiastically embraced his association with Trump, who endorsed Cox in 2018. Cox has sent out mailers with images of himself and the former president.
Berkeley/LAT Poll: 10 percent
Fundraising: $257,000 plus $7 million from himself
More: California recall brings circus act to town

Kevin Kiley (R): The assemblymember has been one of Newsom’s fiercest critics during the pandemic. Kiley has used his Assembly floor speeches and Twitter to excoriate the governor’s decisions, and he took Newsom to court to try and curtail the governor’s use of executive powers — securing an initial legal victory that was overturned on appeal. That record earned Kiley the admiration of conservative figures like former Trump administration official Richard Grenell and an endorsement from the website RedState.
Berkeley/LAT Poll: 5 percent
Fundraising: $162,000
More: Kiley focuses on school vouchers in California recall campaign

Caitlyn Jenner (R): The former Olympian and reality TV star has generated buzz and regularly appeared on Fox News. But she has struggled to gain traction since jumping into the race. She has showed an uneven grasp of California’s political issues and struggled to say if she voted in 2020 or not. Her decision to travel to Australia to reportedly tape a reality TV show in the campaign’s closing weeks has led to further questions about how serious a candidate she is. Jenner has lagged in the polls and much of her money has come from out of state, suggesting her national name ID hasn’t translated into a groundswell of California support.
Berkeley/LAT Poll: 3 percent
Fundraising: $410,000
More: Caitlyn Jenner wants to turn celebrity into power. But why?

Kevin Paffrath (D): Known to his nearly 1.7 million YouTube followers as “Meet Kevin,” he likely boasts the most name recognition of any of the nine Democrats on the ballot. No establishment Democrat ended up running — an outcome pushed by Newsom’s team in the name of party unity — which means Paffrath could collect plenty of Democratic votes on the second question if he leverages his social media presence into wider coverage during the campaign. Voters who reject the recall still get to vote on a replacement candidate, so the “D” after Paffrath’s name, along with the ballot designation of “Financial Educator/Analyst,” may attract a significant number of votes in this blue state.
Berkeley/LAT Poll: 3 percent
Fundraising: $133,000
More: ‘It’s click politics’: Social media stars join California recall field

Doug Ose (R): The former congressman from the Sacramento area has argued that his combination of political and business experience makes him uniquely suited to address California’s dysfunction. He has been able to draw on his time in Congress to attract donations from residents of the Sacramento area he represented.
Berkeley/LAT Poll: 2 percent or less
Fundraising: $158,000
More: Former GOP congressman Ose announces California recall bid

Ted Gaines (R): The former state lawmaker now represents a large swath of rural counties and conservative suburbs on the Board of Equalization, a state tax panel. He has spent years building a constituency, but he got into the race late and will likely vie for votes with Kiley, considering they hail from the same area outside Sacramento.
Berkeley/LAT Poll: 2 percent or less
Fundraising: $264,000
More: Republican Ted Gaines joins swelling Newsom recall field

Note: Fundraising totals reflect donations of $1,000 or more through July 27 in candidates’ 2021 gubernatorial accounts; a small donation report is not due until August.

Continue

About the author

Lisa

Leave a Comment