OAKLAND – Is the push to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom linked to his pandemic record or to Republican extremism?
It depends on the campaign you are requesting.
California fighters previewed the likely themes of a recall campaign during a lively panel discussion on Wednesday, their first major showdown since the election became a near certainty last month.
Supporters of the recall say they represent voters disillusioned by Newsom’s inconsistent and arbitrary coronavirus orders; Newsom advocates equate protecting the Democratic governor with defending California liberalism against Trumpist encroachment.
Newsom and his allies have long sought to present the recall as a partisan distraction motivated by the Conservative fringe, pointing to comments from the organizers of the recall criticizing vaccinations and a Facebook reverie about the immigrant microchip. The National Republican Party backed the recall effort, which also received money from Trump supporters and prominent conservative figures like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
“We came here because a Republican-led faction of Trump is trying to make a major takeover because they lost power in Washington, DC,” Ace Smith, senior consultant for Newsom, said during ‘a discussion at the Sacramento Press Club, citing the conspiracy theorists of Proud Boys and QAnon. “You can choose to be on the side of right-wing conspiracy theorists or people who really have a vision for moving the state forward,” he added.
The head of the recall committee, Anne Dunsmore, said voters from all political backgrounds signed because they were repelled by the impression Newsom had not followed restrictions on other Californians, arguing that the campaign would appeal to frustrated suburban mothers and Latino voters. She told POLITICO in February that two-thirds of the signatories were Republicans, compared to 22% unaffiliated with a party and 10% Democrats.
She pointed to Newsom’s now notorious decision to dine at an opulent restaurant with lobbyists and friends while urging Californians to stay home and the fact that her children have resumed in-person learning at their private school even then. that most public schools remained closed. And she argued that far-right supporters do not represent the core of the campaign while saying Newsom’s supporters include far-left activists.
“I could also go and get a bunch of photos of left bangs,” Dunsmore said in response to Smith. “We are both tormented by members of our parties who do not represent the mainstream at all.”
As pandemic angst propelled the recall to the brink of qualification, an official petition that preceded the coronavirus cited Newsom’s measures to protect undocumented immigrants, stop executions and increase commercial property taxes. Smith argued that supporters of the recall wanted to go back to the days before the current Democratic rule in California, repeatedly citing a 1994 voting initiative that sought to cut services to unauthorized immigrants.
“You are sorely mistaken if you think this is just a referendum on Gavin Newsom,” Smith said. “This is a debate about where this state should go.”
But Dunsmore rejected those arguments, saying the recall was a non-partisan referendum on handling the Newsom pandemic. The campaign is likely to hammer home this theme by seeking to persuade moderate and non-partisan voters in deep blue California. Democrats control all state offices, exercise a supermajority in the legislature, and outnumber registered Republicans by nearly five million voters.
“You can continue to pitch partisan rhetoric about it,” but “it really didn’t stick and it doesn’t because it’s not true,” Dunsmore said. “You can keep throwing Trump at it – Trump hasn’t expressed an opinion on this recall.”
County registrars have until the end of April to determine whether promoters have collected enough signatures to force an election. But Newsom has treated a campaign as inevitable, saying the recall will likely be eligible when it rolls out endorsements – and fundraising demands – from Democratic heavy hitters like Sen. Bernie Sanders and human rights lawyer. Stacey Abrams vote.
Assuming he qualifies, voters will likely weigh in this fall. The ballot would ask two questions: should we recall Newsom and who should replace him? A recent poll puts Newsom in a strong position to survive, with just 40% of voters saying they would vote to recall it.