OAKLAND – Are efforts to oust Gavin Newsom on his pandemic or Republican extremism?
It depends on what campaign you are asking.
California fighters previewed the likely themes of a recall campaign during a feisty panel discussion Wednesday, their first big face since the election became almost certain last month.
Recall advocates claim to represent voters disillusioned with Newsom’s inconsistent and arbitrary orders for coronavirus; Newsom’s defenders equate the protection of the Democratic governor with defending California’s liberalism against violating Trumpism.
Newsom and his allies have long sought to portray the recall as a biased distraction driven by the conservative fringe, pointing to remembering organizers’ comments criticizing vaccinations and a foundation on Facebook about microchip immigrants. The National Republican Party has backed the recall efforts, which have also received money from Trump supporters and prominent conservatives like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
“We came here because a faction led by the Trump Republicans is trying to make a big grab for power because they lost power in Washington, DC,” Newsom consultant Ace Smith said during a Sacramento Press Club discussion, citing the Proud Boys and QAnon conspiracy theorists. “You can choose to be on the side of right-wing conspiracy theorists or people who actually have a vision to move the state forward,” he added.
Chief Executive Officer Anne Dunsmore said voters across the political spectrum have signed up because they are repulsed by the impression Newsom has not followed the restrictions imposed on other Californians, arguing that the campaign will appeal to frustrated suburban mothers and Latinos -voters. She told POLITICO in February that two-thirds of the signatories were Republicans, compared to 22 percent who were not affiliated with a party and 10 percent democratically.
She pointed to Newsom’s now infamous decision to dine at a lavish restaurant with lobbyists and friends, while urging Californians to stay home and the fact that his children returned for personal learning at their private school, though most public schools remained closed. And she argued that right-wing extremist supporters do not represent the core of the campaign, while saying that Newsom’s defenders include right-wing extremist activists.
“I could also take a lot of pictures of left-wing fringes,” Dunsmore said in response to Smith. “We are both plagued by people in our parties who do not represent the mainstream at all.”
While pandemic anxiety provoked the recall to the brink of qualification, an official petition that preceded the coronavirus cited Newsom’s steps to protect undocumented immigrants, halt executions and raise commercial property taxes. Smith argued that recall advocates wanted to return to the era that preceded the Democrats’ current California dominance, repeatedly invoking a 1994 referendum initiative that sought to cut off services to unauthorized immigrants.
“You’re very wrong if you think this is a straightforward referendum on Gavin Newsom,” Smith said. “This is a debate about the direction this state should go.”
But Dunsmore rejected those arguments, saying the recall was an impartial referendum on Newsom’s pandemic control. The campaign is likely to hammer on this theme as it seeks to persuade moderate and non-party preference voters in deep blue California. Democrats control every state office everywhere, exercise super-majorities in the law, and exceed registered Republicans by nearly five million voters.
“You can keep throwing the biased rhetoric over this,” but “it really has not stuck, and it has not stuck because it is not true,” Dunsmore said. “You can continue to throw Trump at this – Trump has not expressed an opinion on this recall.”
County registrars have until the end of April to decide whether advocates have gathered enough signatures to force an election. But Newsom has treated the campaign as a foregone conclusion, saying the recall is likely to qualify as they roll out endorsements – and fundraising requests – from Democratic heavy hitters like Senator Bernie Sanders and voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams.
Assuming it qualifies, voters would likely weigh in the fall. The vote would ask two questions: should Newsom be recalled and who should replace him? The latest poll puts Newsom in a strong position to survive, with only 40 percent of voters saying they would vote to remember him.