OAKLAND — California election officials confirmed Monday that recall proponents collected enough valid signatures for a special gubernatorial contest this year, making it all but certain that voters will decide Gov. Gavin Newsom’s fate this fall.
Foes of the Democratic governor needed to turn in roughly 1.5 million valid signatures by mid-March to force a vote. They have had 1.62 million signatures validated, according to an update from the California Secretary of State’s office.
The long-anticipated tally affirmed the inevitability of a campaign that has already attracted several Republican candidates. On Friday, former Olympian, reality TV star and transgender celebrity Caitlyn Jenner officially joined the fray, adding Hollywood firepower to what is expected to be the nation’s most prominent election in 2021.
The election still has not formally qualified for the ballot because California’s recall process requires additional review steps before certification. Voters who signed petitions can still withdraw their signatures, then the state must analyze the election’s fiscal effects.
But the withdrawal process is highly unlikely to block the recall, and Newsom himself has treated a campaign like a foregone conclusion by launching a fundraising blitz and enlisting prominent Democrats to rally behind his defense. The timeline contains some wiggle room, but voters will likely go to the polls in the late fall.
Anger over Newsom’s management of the coronavirus pandemic has supercharged the recall attempt. In the months after recall backers won a court extension to gather signatures, Newsom reimposed a statewide lockdown in response to a second surge and faced a backlash for attending a lobbyist friend’s birthday dinner at an opulent restaurant. Most public school students spent a year or more out of classrooms.
But just as pandemic discontent has propelled the effort to oust Newsom, the recall election’s timing could benefit the governor. Declining coronavirus rates offer hope that life will return to a semblance of normalcy in the months ahead, with Newsom planning to broadly reopen the economy and discard a system of tiered restrictions by mid-June.
Polling shows Newsom is in a strong position to fend off the recall, thanks in part to sturdy support from California’s overwhelmingly Democratic electorate. But the chance to unseat Newsom has galvanized California Republicans seeking a comeback win and draw national attention and money to the recall, which is poised to dominate the campaign calendar in the coming year.
“This election will be about two different visions for California,” said Juan Rodriguez, campaign manager for the Newsom effort, in a statement. “The Republican recall — backed by partisan, pro-Trump, and far-right forces — threatens our values as Californians and seeks to undo the important progress we’ve made under Governor Newsom — fighting COVID, supporting families who are struggling, protecting our environment, common-sense gun safety laws. There’s simply too much at stake — we will win.”
A California gubernatorial recall would ask voters two questions: whether they want to oust Newsom and whom they want to replace him if he is removed. Newsom cannot appear on the second question, and the winner would only need a plurality of support to become governor if voters decide they want to recall Newsom. That gives Republicans a better chance of winning the top office in this deep-blue state than in a head-to-head general election against a Democrat.
Republican contenders have long since begun lining up to challenge Newsom. Jenner on Friday joined a swelling field that already included former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, former Rep. Doug Ose and businessman John Cox — Newsom’s 2018 opponent. Former Trump administration official Richard Grenell has also explored a run.
Newsom and Jenner have not wasted time taking shots at one another. After Jenner’s announcement, Newsom sought to rally supporters with a flurry of fundraising emails that repeatedly mention Jenner’s ties to former President Donald Trump and his allies. The latest framed Jenner’s run as a “Republican recall attempt to replace Gavin Newsom and install a Trump acolyte into power.”
Jenner fired back by telling her 3.5 million Twitter followers, “Gavin Newsom is so threatened by our campaign that he’s trying to fundraise off my announcement instead of focusing on doing his actual job.” She subsequently drew online derision after blaming public safety issues on “Gavin’s District Attorneys” despite the fact that prosecutors are locally elected.