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October 15, 2021

News West

West Coast News Network

How the California recall election may play out for Newsom

Here comes the circus — with clowns, ring masters and trained politicians.

The recall circus is headed our way and there’ll be lots of performers, maybe even bringing some entertainment

But it’s looking less compelling than the last recall circus 18 years ago, when Hollywood action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger — the “Terminator” — leaped in and stole the show. The centrist Republican got himself elected governor, and Democratic Gov. Gray Davis was tossed out of office.

Very little is likely to happen this time, now that the secretary of state has announced that at least 1.5 million valid voter signatures have been collected to force a special election to possibly recall Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The recall campaign will receive modest public attention. Both sides — especially the governor’s — will spend tens of millions. And Newsom will beat the recall.

The best-bet scenario:

  • Democrats previously devised legal ways to drag out a recall election, so this one probably won’t be held until fall, most likely November.
  • By fall, practically all public-school kids will be back in classrooms. Virtually everyone will be vaccinated. Stores and restaurants — those that didn’t go broke during Newsom’s inconsistent pandemic restrictions — will be fully reopened. The economy will be booming. And most voters will be relatively happy and not spewing anger at Newsom.
  • There won’t be a universally popular, politically savvy celebrity on the ballot, such as Schwarzenegger. That will substantially lower the competition for the governor.
  • But there’ll be scores — perhaps hundreds — of publicity seekers, gadflies and wannabe somebodies on the ballot to replace Newsom. In the Davis recall, there were 135 so-called candidates.

    Two were then-porn star Mary Carey and Los Angeles billboard icon Angelyne, who have both announced they’ll run again in this recall election.

    “Last time I ran I was young, dumb and full of fun,” Carey says. “This time I have more experience and will not be taking this position laying down. I am ready to be on top.”

    That’s the sort of thing that will pass for entertainment.

    Also running is Caitlyn Jenner, an Olympic gold-medalist decathlete turned reality TV star. In 2015, she publicly came out as a transgender woman. A Republican, she’s a celebrity, but no Schwarzenegger.

  • The California political landscape is much bluer today than in 2003. Back then, Democrats didn’t hold a big numerical advantage over Republicans in voter registration. They led by roughly 8 percentage points. Today it’s about 22 points — with nearly twice as many Democrats as Republicans.

    The state GOP fell on hard times after 2003. No Republican has won statewide office since 2006.

  • Newsom is still fairly popular. Davis’ name was dirt. In a March survey of likely votes by the Public Policy Institute of California, 53% approved of Newsom’s job performance. In March 2003, Davis had a job approval rating of only 27%.

    In the PPIC survey, 56% of likely voters opposed the recall. Just 40% supported it. This was mainly partisan, with the vast majority of Democrats against the recall and the vast majority of Republicans for it.

    So, it’s highly unlikely that voters ultimately will vote for the recall.

What could change this scenario? Two or three things could make it tougher for Newsom.

One: A major Democrat defies party leaders and jumps into the race as a safety net to prevent a Republican takeover if Newsom is recalled. Disgruntled Democrats would assume they could have it both ways — recall Newsom and replace him with another Democrat.

In 2003, Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante crossed up Davis and ran in the recall. He was trounced, but probably produced Democratic votes for the recall.

The only major Democrat being speculated about for a Bustamante replay is former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. He ran against Newsom in 2018 and finished a distant third in the “top two” open primary.

Villaraigosa undoubtedly enjoys hearing his name mentioned, but I can’t envision him running unless Newsom stumbles into a ditch. He’d become a party pariah.

“He has a distinguished mayoral history. I hope he doesn’t foul it up by having sugar plums dancing through his head hoping this is the way he becomes governor,” says Democratic consultant Garry South, who was Davis’ chief strategist

A second possible pit hole for Newsom: He steps in it again, as he did when he dined at the fancy French Laundry restaurant, breaking the pandemic rules he ordered all of us to obey.

And third: If kids aren’t completely back in classrooms. Or if Newsom can’t keep the electricity flowing during wildfire season. Or if he forces us to ration water for cooking and toilets during the drought. He’d have a hard time explaining that stuff.

“It’s the school issue that could trip him up,” says Republican consultant Rob Stutzman, a former Schwarzenegger communications director.

Newsom’s strategy is to portray the recall effort as a Republican “power grab” led by supporters of unpopular former President Trump.

That should be easy. The three leading GOP contenders are Trump supporters: former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer, businessman John Cox and former U.S. Rep. Doug Ose of Sacramento.

“We hope to get behind one candidate and say, ‘This is clearly the person to take us across the finish line,’” says state GOP Chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson.

Patterson naturally sees a different scenario than mine.

“We have a huge opportunity to win this thing,” she asserts. “Start with the fact that 2.1 million voters signed the recall petition. Chances are they’ll be voting ‘yes’ on the recall.”

Fine. Politics aside, most of us could use a little circus excitement.

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