The leaders of the effort to remove California Governor Gavin Newsom said they have more than enough signatures at the deadline of their campaign, moving the most-populous state closer to its first recall election in almost two decades.
Recall backers said Wednesday they have collected at least 2,117,730 signatures as of the 5 p.m. deadline. They need 1.5 million to be valid for the measure to qualify for the ballot. County officials have until April 29 to certify the results of their verification of the names. As of March 8, the Secretary of State had verified 668,168 signatures out of 1.1 million.
If it qualifies, which appears likely, it would be only the second time in California’s history that a campaign to recall a governor has made the ballot out of 55 attempts. In 2003, Gray Davis was removed and replaced by Hollywood superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, in a circus-like campaign that featured more than 130 candidates, including a porn star and a bounty hunter.
Bankrolled by state and national Republicans, the Newsom recall campaign has seized on resentment over California’s orders restricting activities, including shuttering businesses and schools, to curb the coronavirus pandemic. The 53-year-old governor also drew widespread criticism for attending a swank Napa Valley dinner party without a mask, as well as early confusion over vaccination eligibility.
After largely ignoring the movement, Newsom this week launched a campaign against it featuring support from prominent Democrats, such as Elizabeth Warren and Stacey Abrams, as well as Independent Bernie Sanders.
In a campaign ad funded by the California Democratic party, Newsom supporters characterize recall backers as extremists, people against vaccines, believers in conspiracy theories and adherents of former President Donald Trump, who in the November election took just 34% of the vote in California. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state by nearly two to one.
Randy Economy, a spokesperson for the recall campaign, called the Democratic attacks “tired” and a “smear.”
“This campaign is not about President Trump,” Economy said. “It’s about Gavin Newsom. The vaccine rollout has been a complete disaster and failure. He’s destroyed millions of people’s lives economically.”
The two committees soliciting donations for the recall collectively have raised about $4 million, according to their representatives. Contributors include billionaire dealmaker Chamath Palihapitiya, who donated $200,000; tech executive David Sacks and his wife Jacqueline, with $180,000; billionaire venture capitalist Douglas Leone and his wife Patricia Perkins-Leone, with about $200,000; and Mike Huckabee’s political action committee with $175,000, campaign filings show.
If a recall election is set, California voters will face two questions: should Newsom be recalled and if so, who should replace him? Newsom would be removed from office with a simple majority of yes votes on the first question. Whoever wins the most votes on the second question -- even if less than 50% -- would become the next governor. The law doesn’t permit Newsom to be considered as a recall candidate.
Recent polling shows Newsom has some breathing room. A poll conducted earlier this month by Emerson College and Nextar Media Group showed that just 38% of voters said they would vote for a recall.
Still, in another question, a majority of Democrats and independents said they would entertain another Democratic candidate besides Newsom. And a University of California at Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll released in early February found 48% of registered voters disapproved of Newsom’s performance.
Massive crises have consumed much of Newsom’s first term that began in January 2019. He took office boasting an ambitious agenda to address an epidemic of homelessness and a shortage of affordable housing, but instead faced devastating wildfires, mass public safety blackouts and the bankruptcy filing by the state’s largest utility, PG&E Corp., just weeks after he was sworn in.
While the coronavirus has proved Newsom’s biggest crisis yet, it’s showing signs of easing. Much of the state is reopening as infections are at the lowest since last summer. The governor and the Democratic-led legislature approved a $6.6 billion package to encourage in-person school instruction, and most districts are either teaching children within their classrooms or have plans to do so in the next few weeks, the administration said Tuesday.
A vaccine rollout that initially trailed other states also is accelerating, with more than 12 million shots administered.
Ongoing improvement in the pandemic could benefit Newsom if the recall becomes a drawn-out process. The lieutenant governor, currently a Democrat, would schedule the election after a process determining its cost, meaning it may not come as swiftly as Newsom opponents would like.
“We’re taking it seriously,” Newsom said of the recall movement Tuesday on ABC’s The View. “I have to do my job every single day but I’m going to fight this thing.”
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