California governor mounts aggressive effort to combat recall campaign

Newsom acknowledged in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead” Tuesday that he is worried about the recall and expects it to qualify.

“All you need is about a quarter of the people that voted for Donald Trump to get this recall petition to the voters this November, so I’m anticipating it goes on (the ballot). We’re taking it very seriously,” Newsom told Tapper.

He characterized some of the recall proponents as members of right-wing militia groups, conspiracy theorists and White supremacist groups. When pressed by Tapper about the broad base of support that the recall has won among Republicans and independents, Newsom acknowledged that “it’s been a difficult year, and in hindsight, we’re all experts.”

Newsom spoke to Tapper a day before the deadline for recall proponents to submit nearly 1.5 million signatures to the state’s county registrars for verification. Organizers said last week that they had already collected nearly 2 million, a goal they set to account for duplicates or invalid entries. (The threshold set by the state of 1,495,709 signatures for the recall to qualify is equivalent to 12% of the vote in the last gubernatorial election.)

Now that it appears likely that the recall will qualify for the ballot, Newsom has abruptly changed course — shifting from brushing off questions about it to calling it a serious threat to Californians that will jeopardize the progressive goals he has championed. In the last two days, the governor has engaged in an unusual media blitz as his team has launched his new counter-effort, Stop the Republican Recall, to raise money and fire up Democratic support by casting recall proponents as extremists, anti-vaxxers and the kinds of violent insurrectionists who stormed the US Capitol on January 6 in support of Trump.

Earlier Tuesday on ABC’s “The View,” Newsom allowed that he is worried about the campaign, noting that it is the sixth effort to recall him. One reason the recall now looks likely to qualify is because of the high signature validity rate thus far.

Though the verification effort is going slowly at the state level — the most current report from the California Secretary of State’s Office said that of the nearly 800,000 signatures verified by county officials so far, nearly 84% were valid.

“Am I worried about it? Of course I’m worried about it,” Newsom said on “The View.”

“The nature of these things, the up or down question, the zero-sum nature of the question is challenging … so we’re taking it seriously.”

The recall effort was launched last year by Retired Yolo County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Orrin Heatlie and 124 other people who filed a petition to recall Newsom based on what they view as his role in the state’s high taxes, widespread homelessness, lack of affordable housing, out of control wildfires and rolling blackouts. But over the course of the year, the effort broadened to include Californians who were angered by Newsom’s management of the coronavirus pandemic — particularly the restrictive lockdowns last spring and then over the winter holidays that the governor believed would help control the spread of the virus as cases soared and intensive care units hit capacity in the Golden State.
The groups gathering the signatures have submitted them to county registrars across the state on a rolling basis, and county officials are verifying each submission to determine its validity, a process that could extend well into the end of April. After that process is complete, there are an additional series of procedural steps required by state law, so it is unclear exactly when a recall of Newsom — if it qualifies — would land on the ballot.

If the measure does qualify, voters would be asked in a first question whether they want to recall Newsom and then a second question asking who he should be replaced with, which is likely to be a long list of names as it was when former Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, was recalled in 2003. Through that same process, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — a Republican — was elected as Davis’ successor.

Newsom’s blitz of interviews forced him into politically perilous territory when he answered a question Monday about whether he would replace Democratic California Sen. Dianne Feinstein — if she were to retire — with a Black woman to expand representation in that chamber after Vice President Kamala Harris’ exit.

Newsom said on MSNBC on Monday that he had “multiple names in mind” of Black women he would appoint to replace Feinstein until a special election could be scheduled. The subject has come up with some frequency in recent months as progressive activists angry with Feinstein have raised questions about her age and fitness to serve.

But Feinstein has no plans to step aside, confirming Tuesday to CNN that she plans to serve out the duration of her term. She said Newsom’s comments were misinterpreted. And Newsom said on “The View” that he has “no expectation” that Feinstein will be “stepping aside,” adding that she is “lucid and focused” and “committed to the cause of fighting not only for our state as a representative and the senior senator of California, but this nation.”

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