WASHINGTON – California Democrats don’t have a save option if Gov. Gavin Newsom is removed from office in his next recall election – and they’re working hard to keep it that way.
Newsom, weighed down by backlash from his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic which included a maskless dinner with lobbyist friends at a luxury Napa Valley restaurant, faces his state’s first recall in nearly two decades.
Democratic officials want Newsom to be the only leading Democrat on the ballot this fall, even if that would mean relinquishing the governorship in favor of Republicans.
The rules governing the recall create a two-question ballot: First, should Newsom be ousted. Then voters are asked to choose a replacement – who wins only if the “yes” wins over the first question – from a list that may include only Republicans and third-party candidates.
Newsom cannot run to replace himself. And he insists that no Democrats run for a “just in case” candidate.
“No and no,” Newsom senior adviser Dan Newman said when asked if there would or should be another Democrat in the running as an insurance policy. “Every major Democrat has endorsed the governor and opposes the recall. There is little interest or support for this beyond this unconditional Trumpian base. So there is hardly any need for a plan B. ”
Newsom is currently far ahead of the largely unknown field of the Republican challengers. Polls show most Blue State voters want to keep the Democrat in power. And the party concluded that other Democrats in the race could split the vote and potentially cost them the governorship, as happened in 2003 when former Gov. Gray Davis lost his recall to the star. Republican filmmaker Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But many grassroots Democratic voters wish they had more options.
Others say it’s too risky not to have a back-up plan in case Newsom loses, especially since polls have proven unreliable at the best of times, let alone in unusual elections. except for the year when the participation rate will be difficult to predict.
“If the governor slips [in the polls], then Democrats would be unwise not to have a backup plan, ”said Mike Madrid, a longtime California Republican strategist who broke with his party over former President Donald Trump and co-founded the Lincoln Project. “It’s just kind of common sense. A fifth grader might understand this.
Madrid said the Democrats’ plan made sense now that Newsom has regained political altitude and received an unexpected windfall in the form of a massive budget surplus, which he now plans to use to distribute checks from $ 600 raise to millions of Californians months before the election.
But Madrid said the party should prepare a contingency plan in case Newsom becomes unpopular – California summers are notoriously political minefields of wildfires and power outages – even if that means upsetting the governor.
“You can’t hand the state of California over to a candidate backed by Trump. Every Republican is a supporter of Trump, ”Madrid said. “You have to have some kind of safety net.”
California is known for its long ballots filled with fly candidates and so far the six Democrats who have joined the race, including YouTube star Kevin Paffrath and a Star Wars fan with 11 Twitter followers.
Strategically, Newsom and other party officials have concluded that it is best to try and make the recall a high or low binary choice between Newsom and, as they say, a Republican takeover backed by QAnon supporters. , anti-vaxxers and Trump. loyalists.
“That’s their whole strategy,” said Michael Trujillo, a veteran Los Angeles-based Democratic strategist. “You’re going to have some anxiety on the second question, but if you answer the first question correctly, then we’re okay with which anxiety pill you need to take.
They say other Democrats in the race would validate the recall effort and get some Democrats to vote for Newsom’s ouster in hopes of electing a more preferred candidate, dividing the Democratic vote on the first question . A California Democratic strategist estimated it could cost Newsom 5 to 7 percentage points of support.
“The second question is basically a burning clown car. If you’re on the Newsom team right now, you’re basically like, ‘As long as everyone votes no on the first question, we don’t care which clown car you vote for the second.’ ”
In the last recall election in 2003, Democratic State Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante entered the race expressly as an insurance policy. Its slogan was “” No “on recall,” Yes “on Bustamante. “
It didn’t work and many Democrats now believe his presence on the ballot backfired on him.
Davis was much weaker politically than Newsom. Schwarzenegger was much more popular than any of Newsom’s current challengers. And the state was far less pro-Democrats than it is today.
But Democrats are still scared of it, and the Newsom team has worked hard to exclude anyone.
“They have been extraordinarily aggressive in guarding the area,” said a Democratic strategist from California, who asked that their name not be released to put it bluntly.
The California Democratic Party is openly discouraging other candidates from entering the race, and Newsom has reinforcements in Washington.
The Democratic Governors Association last week gave Newsom its largest donation, $ 500,000, to mark its pledge. And President Joe Biden’s White House has several officials close to Newsom, including Vice President Kamala Harris, who shares some political advisers with Newsom and served as a San Francisco district attorney while Newsom was the city’s mayor.
“Democrats in California and across the country are united against this partisan Republican recall,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison said in a statement. “As governor, Gavin Newsom fights for Californians every day.”
Among leading Democrats, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer are reportedly considering a race, but neither appear to have taken any concrete action.
“At this point, any Democrat who steps in would do so more for their own ego than for the state of California,” said David Atkins, a member of the California Democratic National Committee.
There is still plenty of time, with elections scheduled for November or October and the deadline for candidates 60 days before that.
Christine Pelosi, another Democratic National Committee member and the daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said there were more Democrats who had quietly signed the recall petition against Newsom than her campaign rhetoric would suggest .
But she said that even with her detractors, there was no better alternative and anyone who tried to pose as a safety net would likely be dismissed as an opportunist. Instead, she said, Newsom and other Democrats had better try and do a good job ahead of the election.
“The best insurance policy is a good policy,” she said.