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Newsom’s Popularity Drops, but Second Recall Drive Is Doomed to Failure
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By Dan Walters, CalMatters Commentary
Published 1 month ago on
March 2, 2024

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Californians are divided over Gavin Newsom’s leadership.

Newsom’s approval rating has dropped among independent voters.

Recall advocates would need a viable replacement candidate to succeed.


On one level, it’s completely understandable that many Californians believe they and their state would be better off without Gavin Newsom as governor.

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Dan Walters

CalMatters

Opinion

California has some seemingly intractable issues that have worsened during the five years of his governorship – homelessness being the most obvious – and Newsom’s penchant for braggadocio and grandstanding can be grating.

Although California is politically a deeply blue state, a recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found that fewer than half of adult Californians and likely voters believe the state is headed in the right direction and approve of how Newsom has governed.

Although Newsom still enjoys strong support among his fellow Democrats and Republicans are, as one would expect, just as strongly critical, his loss of approval by independent voters is the chief reason for his overall negative image, PPIC’s poll discovered.

Newsom’s Political Ambitions Trump His Ability to Solve Problems

Newsom’s recent fixation on touring the country as a surrogate campaigner for President Joe Biden – and to build his own political standing – probably contributes to his poor image at home. To many, it implies that the state and its problems, including a whopping budget deficit, now play second fiddle to Newsom’s political ambitions, whatever they may be, and surely a factor in a renewed campaign this week seeking to recall the governor.

Orrin Heatlie, a retired Yolo County sheriff’s deputy who headed the 2021 recall effort and is back as chairman of the group Rebuild California, insists that “this time is different.”

“People are suffering in California now more than ever,” he said as the recall effort was launched. “Gas prices and people’s grocery bills are higher than ever before. Crime is out of control, stores statewide are closing their doors, and this governor is giving free handouts and health insurance to thousands of people who are here illegally while we are facing a $70 billion dollar deficit, not to mention our taxes are the highest in the nation.”

“This man has aspirations to become the next president,” Heatlie added. “Although we want him to leave California government, we don’t want him to move to Washington. The country can’t afford that.”statewide are closing their doors, and this governor is giving free handouts and health insurance to thousands of people who are here illegally while we are facing a $70 billion dollar deficit, not to mention our taxes are the highest in the nation.”

All of that said, a second campaign to recall Newsom is a waste of time and energy. He easily defeated the first recall in 2021 with nearly 62% of the vote. A year later, he won a second term with a similar margin and almost certainly would prevail again if recall proponents can collect enough signatures to put it on the ballot.

Who Is the Viable GOP Alternative to Newsom?

Even if they could force a recall election – and even if they muster an impressive list of Newsom’s failures – recall advocates would need a viable replacement to have even a faint chance of success. In California, a recall is a two-step process. Voters simultaneously decide whether they want to oust the incumbent and choose among the declared replacement candidates.

That was demonstrated in 2003 during the first and only successful recall of a California governor. Then-Gov. Gray Davis would almost certainly have survived the recall if actor Arnold Schwarzenegger had not offered himself as a replacement.

Three years ago, the leading candidate to succeed Newsom was right-wing radio talk show host Larry Elder, who obviously saw it as an opportunity for self-aggrandizement rather than a serious interest in governance. He was an easy target for the Newsom campaign.

Given the very thin bench of Republican politicians in California these days, it’s difficult to imagine anyone who could, by running as a replacement for Newsom, make a difference – nor could they raise the millions of dollars that a campaign would require. The only alternative would be a wealthy celebrity who could self-finance a campaign, like Schwarzenegger, but who that might that be, if anyone?

About the Author

Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He began his professional career in 1960, at age 16, at the Humboldt Times. CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more columns by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary.

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