Gov. Gavin Newsom
(Anne Wernikoff / CalMatters)

The Newsom recall: What happens between now and election day

From when balloting starts to the field of candidates, the odds for Republicans and all the money involved on both sides, CalMatters looks at what voters need to know about the Sept. 14 recall election.

The stage is set.

The recall election asking voters if they want to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom will take place on Sept. 14. Nearly four dozen candidates will appear on the ballot as potential replacements, according to the secretary of state’s office.

Newsom and the candidates vying to replace him are scurrying to sweep up donor dollars, endorsements and every other advantage they can gain before voters cast their ballots. The incumbent has every advantage. But uncertainties — notably over the pandemic, wildfires and power blackouts for now — mean nothing is certain.

A new poll shows that while most Californians oppose recalling Newson, the voters most passionate about casting ballots in September are nearly evenly divided on whether to oust the Democratic governor.

Here’s what voters need to know about the attempted recall of Newsom, the candidates who want to replace him and the process that will unfurl through election day in mid-September.

The field

After months of uncertainty over who was running and who was seeking publicity, the field of potential Newson replacements is now set. The secretary of state’s office announced that the certified list of candidates includes 46 people — 24 Republicans, 10 with no party preference, nine Democrats, two members of the Green Party and one Libertarian.

The most well-known Republicans are Olympic Gold medalist/reality television star Caitlyn Jenner and nationally syndicated conservative talk radio host Larry Elder. Other prominent Republicans running include former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, former Rep. Doug Ose, unsuccessful 2018 GOP gubernatorial nominee John Cox, Assemblyman Kevin Kiley and Board of Equalization Member Ted Gaines. The most well-known registered Democrat candidate is Kevin Paffrath, a personal finance influencer with more than 1.6 million followers on YouTube.

Newsom and his allies were successful in stopping a prominent Democratic elected official from entering the race. This is a risky strategy for Democrats, because if the recall is successful, the next governor will almost certainly be a Republican.

The deadline to appear on the ballot has passed, but those who want to try their luck as write-in candidates have until 14 days before election day to file the necessary paperwork.

The odds

Polling shows that Republicans are more enthusiastic about voting in the special election than Democrats. This motivation gap is what recall backers are counting on in a state where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans nearly 2 to 1.

However, Newsom still has a number of advantages:

Incumbents always use their office to buoy their reelection efforts. Newsom is no different. In the midst of the pandemic, Newsom has highlighted his recovery efforts, such as offering $600 stimulus checks to many Californians that his critics call “recall refunds.”

Newsom’s allies, notably labor, have an army of volunteers to call and text voters or canvass neighborhoods. And the incumbent has an enormous financial edge.

The money

Newsom’s anti-recall allies have raised more than $37 million, more than all the pro-recall forces and GOP candidates combined. Voters will get a clearer picture of candidates finances next week, when campaign committees must file fundraising disclosures for the first six months of the year. Another round of finance reports is due Sept. 2.

Money is not determinative (just ask Gov. Meg Whitman or President Jeb Bush). But most candidates would prefer to have more money than not, particularly in a state that is as large as California and contains so many of the nation’s most expensive media markets.

Newsom’s allies have already launched a multimillion-dollar ad blitz featuring Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts urging voters to oppose the recall. Expect a barrage of television ads through election day.

The GOP fight to consolidate support

The Republican candidates who want to replace Newsom have been working to consolidate support among the party’s most active members. They’ve been speaking at GOP luncheons and receptions; asking for endorsements from elected officials, donors and conservative groups, and courting party delegates who will decide who the state party backs in August.

In coming days, these efforts will break into public view. Several candidates will meet Wednesday at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum for the first televised debate. But the two most well-known candidates are not participating. Elder had previously committed to attending a fundraiser, and a spokeswoman tweeted that he didn’t want to participate in a “Circular firing squad among GOP.” Jenner is filming a reality television show in Australia.

Three days later, the state Republican Party will decide whether to endorse a contender in the race. Some candidates and activists believe the process has been rigged in favor of Faulconer, a favorite of the party establishment, and are urging delegates to vote against an endorsement.

These decisions will happen shortly before voters start receiving mail ballots at their homes.

The vote

While election day is officially Sept. 14, voting will start weeks before then.

State election officials have already begun sending ballots to military and overseas voters. On Aug. 16, they will start mailing them to all registered voters in California as required by a 2019 law prompted by the pandemic.

Voters can return them by mail, or surrender them if they want to vote in person on Sept. 14.

The ballots contain two questions:

  • Should Newsom be recalled?
  • Regardless how you voted on the first question, if the governor is recalled, who should he be replaced by?

If more than 50% of voters say that Newsom should be recalled, the top vote-getter in the second question will serve the rest of Newsom’s term, regardless of how few votes that candidate gets.

Readers have reported some confusion over the ballot, notably that if they vote for a candidate in the second question, would that erase a no vote on the first question? The answer is no. Even if voters oppose the recall, they have the option of voting for a replacement candidate in case the recall is successful without affecting their “no” vote on the first question.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.