New York Daily News

Sorry, GOP, he won’t be back

Calif. Republican­s hunt for gov candidate

- BY KATHLEEN RONAYNE

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s critics almost certainly have qualified a recall election for the ballot, a remarkable feat in the heavily Democratic state. Now the real work begins. The chance to recapture the governorsh­ip in the most populous state is an energizing prospect for Republican­s who have been locked out of statewide office for more than a decade.

That was when Arnold Schwarzene­gger was ending a governorsh­ip that began when he ousted Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in a 2003 recall, the only successful recall of a governor in state history.

But the GOP constitute­s just a quarter of voters in California and with no Schwarzene­gger-like candidate who is immediatel­y recognizab­le to voters, it’s an uphill climb to attract the independen­ts and Democrats needed to recall Newsom all while keeping Republican­s united.

A recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found just 40% of California­ns support recalling the first-term governor.

“If this is simply branded as a Republican effort the likelihood of success is very slim,” said Tim Rosales, a Republican consultant who was a senior adviser to the campaign of John Cox, a businessma­n who lost to Newsom in 2018 and is running again. His firm recently stopped working with Cox.

Beyond Cox, the top Republican­s in the race so far are former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and ex-U.S. Rep. Doug Ose, who last held office in 2005. Neither is close to a household name, though Faulconer has been barnstormi­ng the state to raise his profile.

The closest thing to Schwarzene­gger this time may be reality TV star and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner, who has said she may enter the race. She is a longtime Republican but has never sought elected office.

Stephen Puetz, the campaign manager for Faulconer, said if people are waiting for another Schwarzene­gger, “they’re going to be waiting for a long time.”

Faulconer’s team says he fits the mold of a Republican who can win in a Democratic state, like Gov. Larry Hogan in Maryland or Charlie Baker in Massachuse­tts. He was elected mayor twice in San Diego, the eighth-largest city in the country by population and a place where Democrats outnumber Republican­s.

“It’s a long race. Everyone thinks of it as short, but it’s not that short,” Puetz said, arguing that Faulconer has plenty of time to boost name recognitio­n and energize voters.

The California Republican Party hasn’t chosen a favorite yet, but Chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson said an endorsemen­t will come before the election, expected in the fall.

“If we can all get in agreement on a single candidate, I think it works better for all of us,” she said in an interview. “I’m hopeful that we find that candidate that can unite us all and say: ‘This is the best chance we have at winning.’ ”

But recall organizers, including the leader of the grassroots group that led the signature gathering effort, as well as the Republican Governors Associatio­n, plan to stay out of the candidate fight.

Instead, they’ll focus solely on trying to convince voters to oust Newsom.

“We’re opening the door, that’s all we’re doing,” said Anne Dunsmore, a consultant for Rescue California, a committee that plans to raise money, run TV ads and conduct polling for the pro-recall campaign. “And if we don’t succeed it doesn’t matter what anybody else does.”

Recall supporters gathered 2.1 million signatures in about nine months. Next week, it’s expected enough will be verified by election officials to qualify the recall for a ballot that will ask voters two questions: Should Newsom be recalled? Who should replace him?

The votes on the second question will only be counted if a simple majority wants to remove Newsom. Then the candidate with the most votes becomes governor regardless of whether they top 50%.

Dunsmore said she envisions Rescue California and the partner committee run by Orrin Heatlie, the retired county sheriff’s sergeant who launched the recall petition, appealing to independen­t voters and others who may be skeptical of party structures, while the parties focus on turning out the Republican base.

Heatlie, meanwhile, is skeptical of any national party involvemen­t, calling the Republican Governors Associatio­n’s creation of a political committee a “money grab.” And any endorsemen­t of a candidate by the official party could serve to alienate grassroots activists.

But Republican­s will be in a stronger position to get voters to say “yes” on the first if there is a compelling choice to replace him, Patterson said. The state GOP hopes to pick a candidate in the next few months, and she is looking for someone that can build a statewide organizati­on, raise lots of money and has support from other Republican elected officials throughout the state.

The majority of Republican state lawmakers already endorsed Faulconer.

“What I think California­n’s don’t want is Gavin Newsom Lite, they want true, bold, different leadership and that’s what we’ll be focusing on,” she said.

Much of the voter anger at Newsom was fueled by his handling of the pandemic.

But conditions in the state are vastly improved from the start of the year when California was the epicenter for the country and most of the state was locked down.

One of the biggest threats to Newsom would be if another Democrat enters the race, something he and his advisers are working hard to prevent. Many believe the decision by Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante to enter the 2003 recall hurt Davis.

For now, Democrats are united behind Newsom.

 ??  ?? Arnold Schwarzene­gger ousted Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in 2003. But no big-name GOP candidate has arisen to try to unseat Gavin Newsom (inset) this year.
Arnold Schwarzene­gger ousted Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in 2003. But no big-name GOP candidate has arisen to try to unseat Gavin Newsom (inset) this year.

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