As Gov. Newsom’s Approval Rating Craters, Would-Be Candidates Line Up to Replace Him

As a recall effort rolls on, here are the people who’ve inserted themselves into the conversation

With a new UC Berkeley poll showing that more than a third of registered California voters support recalling Gavin Newsom, and as even some powerful Democrats blame him for California’s COVID-19 response, there seems to be no good news for the embattled Governor. Now, several gubernatorial wannabes are hoping it stays that way if the recall movement succeeds.

Most of the self-proclaimed contenders are talking about challenging Newsom if recall petitioners are able to gather 1.5 million Californians’ signatures by March 17. That would trigger a special election later this year, in which voters would be asked whether they support the recall of Newsom and whom they want to replace him if the recall is successful.

Republican State Assemblyman Kevin Kiley may have given the potential candidates a confidence boost Friday when he tweeted, “If you’re curious as to the exact signature count, it’s currently 1,308,211.”

One hopeful is former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a moderate who officially launched his campaign at a press conference in Los Angeles Tuesday.

Taking a more traditional shot at Newsom, Faulconer, who ran the state’s second largest city for six years, said, “The world used to look at California for a brighter future but now we can’t even keep the lights on. It’s become the land of broken promises and the promise-breaker in chief is Gavin Newsom.”

Viewed by many as the only remotely viable GOP candidate for Governor in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly two to one, Faulconer told Politico that he would run if the recall drive qualifies by the March deadline, or in the typical 2022 election cycle.

“It’s time for the California comeback,” he said. “And I’m excited to be a voice for Californians who are suffering because Sacramento can’t do the basics. This campaign is going to be about restoring balance and common sense to our government.”

For all his “common sense” talk, however, Faulconer—who says he’s raised $1 million in the weeks since he launched his 2022 exploratory campaign—was a major Trump backer, and Newsom’s allies have no intention of letting anyone forget it.

“The Trump train doesn’t want to leave the station, but Kevin Faulconer is all aboard,” Newsom rep Dan Newman said. “Faulconer is joining other Trump supporters who want taxpayers to waste $100 million on a special election redo, mere months before a regularly scheduled election.”

Newman continued, “It’s appropriate that he picked Groundhog Day to announce once again that he’s running. He just keeps doing this at the start of each month, waiting vainly for people to pay attention.”

Meanwhile, billionaire investor and CEO of venture capital firm Social Capital Chamath Palihapitiya hasn’t exactly said that he’s running–but he sure he wants Newsom recalled.

The Sri Lanka-born, Canadian-American former Facebook employee had some people scratching their heads last week when he tweeted a link to what appears to be his campaign website with the hashtag #RecallGavinNewsom and the message, “It’s on.”

The site promises “0% State Tax” and “$70,000 Teacher Salary” but the two supporters who built it say it’s not official and Palihapitiya has apparently yet to file any paperwork with the California Secretary of State.

In a recent interview with CNBC’s Halftime, Palihapitiya would not confirm a potential run, saying only, “First step is we need to recall Gavin Newsom.”

Also possibly making a run is Republican businessman John Cox, who blew $5.7 million of his own money in the 2018 race only to lose to Newsom by 24 points.

“The state is in crisis,” Cox, a major financial backer of the recall movement, said in an interview this weekend. Focusing on Newsom’s pandemic response, he added, “The last straw, as far as I’m concerned, is the failure in terms of vaccine distribution. This is unconscionable. And I’m just not sitting back and watching this. I’m going to actually do something about it.”

On the not-gonna-happen end of the spectrum, there’s Mike Cernovich, right-wingest of the right-wing commentators, who admits there’s “no chance in hell” that he’ll ever win, but who announced in a Periscope video Monday, “I have no delusion about that, but if I can get enough of a base of support I can force hair gel Hitler, which is what we call Newsom […] to answer for his war crimes, his human rights violations.”

Cernovich’s assessment of his own election chances in California are perhaps the only thing about him that’s not delusional—or perhaps disturbingly cynical.

The Southern Poverty Law Center calls Cernovich “one of America’s most visible right-wing provocateurs, known for boosting or generating massively successful conspiracy theories like #Pizzagate,” who “made his career on trolling the liberal establishment by accusing people of pedophilia or child sex trafficking.”

The SPLC also stated, “Mike Cernovich rose to prominence on the back of his male supremacist rhetoric before latching on to the racist and misogynistic so-called ‘alt-right.’ He has since distanced himself from the ‘alt-right’ after it became a liability for his brand, but still embodies its informational style, as well as its affinity for conspiracy theories and online harassment campaigns.”

According to Newsom rep Newman, the governor continues to be most concerned with the vaccine rollout. “All these Trump supporters will fight it out amongst themselves,”  Newman said, “but for now we need them to stop inciting people to shut down our mass-vaccination sites, as they tried to do at Dodger Stadium over the weekend.”

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