Governor Newsom recall election in California: Who are the candidates, how does it work - and all your other questions answered

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Democrats dominate politics in California and no Republican has won statewide since 2006. But the upcoming recall election on September 14 is presenting a serious political challenge to gained traction in collecting signatures. The election is set to take place amid a rise in COVID cases and as wildfires rage in the state. The election also presents a key test for how voters will respond to the way Democratic governors handled the pandemic. 

There have been previous attempts to recall Newsom, but this is the first challenge to get to the ballot. The election will be just the second recall election for governor in state history. The other took place in 2003 when Democratic Governor Gray Davis was recalled and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor. 

Here's what you need to know about the recall. 

How did we get here?

In February 2020, a group called the California Patriot Coalition began circulating a petition to recall Newsom, citing his administration's policies on immigration, homelessness, the state's drought emergency and taxes. Newsom had faced five previous recall attempts, but such petitions require 1.5 million signatures to trigger an election — and the prior ones all fell short.  

The coalition was started by Orrin Heatlie, a retired sheriff's sergeant. Other groups such as the Reform California organization have ties to Republican operatives and helped fundraise to collect signatures. 

Proponents of the recall say the movement really gained traction in collecting signatures after Newsom was spotted at the upscale French Laundry restaurant while his indoor dining shutdowns were still in effect.

Recall supporters were able to submit more than 2.1 million signatures and California's Secretary of State verified 1.7 million signatures.

Who are the candidates?

Twenty-four Republicans, 9 Democrats, 10 "No Party Preference" candidates, 2 Green Party and 1 Libertarian candidates will be on the ballot to replace Newsom.

Six Republicans have stood out with their campaign activity and fundraising: 

  • Conservative radio talk show host Larry Elder
  • Former Olympian, reality TV star and transgender activist Caitlyn Jenner
  • 2018 Republican nominee for governor John Cox
  • Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer
  • Former congressman Doug Ose
  • State Representative Kevin Kiley 

Elder entered the recall race in mid-July and has already brought in at least $5.5 million for his campaign. A Los Angeles-based host of a nationally syndicated conservative talk show, Elder has been the most recent target for Newsom's recall campaign, which claims Elder's show serves as a platform for disinformation on science and COVID-19 and that he's further "to the right" of former President Trump.

Has California ever recalled a governor before?

Yes. If Newsom is recalled, it would be the second time that California voters have recalled a governor. 

In 2003, Democratic Governor Gray Davis was recalled and replaced by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger went on to win a full term as governor in 2006. 

The memories of that race still sting Democrats. Hicks said because of the 2003 result, he's glad that there isn't a strong Democratic candidate challenging Newsom. In that election, then-Democratic Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante ran as a replacement candidate. 

"We had a Democratic governor and we had the 'backup option' and the result was Arnold Schwarzenegger," Hicks said. "I think that California Democrats carry that lesson with us to this fight."



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