Despite several of the nation’s top Democrats joining Gavin Newsom’s anti-recall campaign, some veterans of California politics are saying it’s all but a sealed deal that the Governor will face a challenger from within his own party.
No Democrat has stepped up to run against Newsom so far, but, as the Los Angeles Times reports, election watchers believe that will change as party insiders come around to the idea that Newsom’s survival is not as crucial to the state as keeping it out of GOP hands.
Dan Schnur, a political communication instructor at USC and UC Berkeley, says Dems “won’t have any choice” but to consider a party rival because, “It’s important to present a unified front, but it’s even more important for them to protect themselves.”
Democratic strategist Darry Sragow points out that the party may be backing itself into a corner by relying on the battered Newsom as its only champion in a Golden State showdown now that a special election is essentially a lock.
“The fundamental point is Democrats really have to think long and hard about not having a good alternative to Gavin on the ballot if he is recalled,” he told the Times. “That’s just the reality.”
Among those rumored to be contemplating a face off against Newsom is former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, as he did in 2018 before losing the primary. He dodged the idea when the Times asked him directly, saying, “At a time when we’ve lost 50,000 Californians in the middle of a pandemic, politics is the last thing we should be talking about.”
However, Villaraigosa seemed to be very much in the mood to talk politics on Friday when he tweeted what Newsom supporters saw as a shot across the Governor’s bow.
“When we look back at the coronavirus pandemic decades from now, we may see the gravest catastrophe as a generation of schoolchildren whose formative years were irrevocably stunted,” he wrote. “We need to open up our schools now.
@California schools, the children can no longer wait.”
— Antonio Villaraigosa (@AVillaraigosa) March 19, 2021
If Villaraigosa claims his comments had nothing to do with the fact that Newsom’s handling of the pandemic is seen as one of his greatest vulnerabilities, longtime Newsom advisor Sean Clegg isn’t buying it.
“My old friend Antonio will embarrass himself and forever poison his legacy if he runs,” Clegg warned.
My old friend Antonio will embarrass himself and forever poison his legacy if he runs.
— Sean Clegg (@CleggSean) March 19, 2021
As Schnur tells the Times, “Having another Democrat in the race takes away from Newsom’s strongest talking point—that it’s all a partisan exercise. It also gives progressives who don’t like him a reason to vote yes.”
Still, Schnur believes Dems could be making a big mistake if they put all their eggs in Newsom’s basket.
“There could be another shutdown. There could be an earthquake. There could be another French Laundry dinner,” he said. “The odds are with Newsom surviving the recall, but all it takes is one thing to call that into question and Democrats would be taking a tremendous risk by not having a fallback option.”