Why is Newsom facing recall? Here’s what you need to know about California’s politics

Should he stay or should he go? That's the big question facing California's 22 million voters about their Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is facing a recall election next Tuesday. To sort out what's at stake for Newsom and the 46 candidates vying to replace him, Judy Woodruff turns to Scott Shafer, the politics and government editor for public media station KQED in San Francisco.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Should he stay or should he go? That's the big question facing California's 22 million voters about their governor, Democrat Gavin Newsom, in the recall election next Tuesday.

    Vice President Kamala Harris, who previously served as a senator from the Golden State, was in Oakland today campaigning for Newsom, where she talked about the stakes for California and the rest of the country.

  • Kamala Harris, Vice President:

    This recall campaign is about California, and it's about a whole lot more.

    They're thinking that, if they can get this done in California, they can go around the country and do this. You have got to understand what's happening right now, what's happening in Texas, what's happening in Georgia, what's happening around our country with these policies that are about attacking women's rights, reproductive rights, voting rights, worker's rights.

    They think, if they can win in California, they can do this anywhere.

    Well, we will show them you are not going to get this done, not here, never!


  • Judy Woodruff:

    To explain what is at stake for Newsom and the 46 candidates vying to replace him, we turn to Scott Shafer. He is the politics and government editor for public media station KQED in San Francisco. He also hosts the "Political Breakdown" podcast,

    Scott Shafer, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    So, first off, what did Governor Newsom do to get — what — how did he get himself in the situation where he invited this recall effort?

  • Scott Shafer, KQED:

    Well, Judy, we should say, first of all, this is the sixth recall effort against Gavin Newsom. In California, we have recall petitions circulating literally all the time.

    The first five petered out and went away. This one was about to have the same fate, but then a judge gave them another 120 days, and then the governor ate dinner at a posh restaurant in Napa Valley, was videotaped not wearing a mask, at a time when he was telling everyone else to be home.

    And so that was a very simple idea, the idea of hypocrisy. And there was a lot of anger in the state, as there was around the country. Schools were closed. Businesses were closing. A lot of people were unemployed. People were scared. There was no vaccine. And I think a lot of people took it out on the governor, fairly or not, and signed the recall petition.

    And, ultimately, more than 1.6 million voters signed it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So it's a two-step process. People vote on the recall and then they would vote, of course, on the replacement.

    But, as we mentioned, 46 candidates, Scott Shafer, that's a lot. But we know a couple of them have gotten most of the attention. Tell us about who they are.

  • Scott Shafer:

    Well, the one who is by far in the lead in every single poll is Larry Elder, conservative talk show host, African American, lives in Los Angeles, and has gotten a lot of attention.

    He has a big media following. He also has a big social media following. And so he's been able to parlay that into a lot of support from his followers, as well as contributions. He's raised quite a bit of money, far more than the other candidates.

    And a lot of people had never really heard of him until he jumped into the race kind of at the last minute. Kevin Faulconer, the former moderate Republican mayor of San Diego, also in the race. He's trying to tack a little bit more to the center. He — when President Trump was in office, he opposed a lot of his policies along the border, like the border wall.

    Also running, we have John Cox, a businessman who ran against Gavin Newsom four years ago and actually was crushed by Newsom 62 to 38 percent. He's running again. We also have Caitlyn Jenner. And there's one Democrat, Kevin Paffrath, 29-year-old YouTube entrepreneur who has also a big social media following.

    The one kind of candidate who is not running, Judy, is an Arnold Schwarzenegger. There is no candidate who towers above the rest of the field and is able to attract moderate Democrats and independent voters. Larry Elder is very good at getting the Republican base excited, but there's no indication that he can go beyond that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So how is Gavin Newsom countering this? How is — what is his message coming back? And where does the race seem to stand right now?

  • Scott Shafer:

    At this point, it's sort of a blame vs. fear.

    The Republicans are blaming Newsom for everything, from crime, to homelessness, and the pandemic. And then you have got fear being talked about by Newsom, the fear of Larry Elder becoming governor of this state.

    Larry Elder has talked about rolling back policies on COVID, mask mandates, vaccine mandates, that kind of thing. And as we just heard in that segment from Idaho, we don't have those kinds of problems the way Idaho does or Texas or Florida.

    And Newsom is saying, look, if you — this is me or Larry Elder.

    And that's really, based on the polls, fair to say. And so it's — really it's in some ways Christmas in September for Gavin Newsom, because Larry Elder has said some very outlandish things about slavery and reparations and women in the workplace. And it's coming back to haunt him and the Republican Party, in a way, because he is now, whether they like it or not, their standard-bearer.

    Polls show — at least the ones that I think are credible — show that Newsom is well ahead. In other words, the recall is only getting about 39 percent support, but it's all about who votes, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Scott Shafer:

    All about the likely voters. And so that's what the — Kamala Harris being here today, Biden being here next week. It's about turning out Democrats.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, just quickly, the question is, are voters paying attention? And can Kamala Harris, Joe Biden make a difference in this race?

  • Scott Shafer:

    Well, at this point, there's no persuasion that needs to be done. Very few people are undecided.

    It's really about getting attention, reminding people that they got a ballot in the mail three weeks ago; 22 million ballots went out. So that's really what it's about right now, is getting people to mail in or walk in that ballot. And if that happens, if there's a big turnout — and indications are there will be — Gavin Newsom should be OK.

    But it's by no means certain. And that's why he's really pulling out the stops to get people to vote.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    KQED's Scott Shafer with a big story on his hands.

    Thank you very much. We appreciate it.

  • Scott Shafer:

    Thank you, Judy.

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