SAN DIEGO — As the effort to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom gains more and more steam, this week former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer joined the race to become the next California governor—whether it be through a special election if the recall effort succeeds or in 2022 during the midterm elections.

What You Need To Know

  • There are three core issues on the viability of the recall: the validity of signatures, money, and the political environment

  • How dissatisfied the electorate is with Gov. Newsom’s leadership as the pandemic wears on will also play a crucial role in the recall effort

  • During his time as mayor, Faulconer touted himself as a moderate Republican

  • A challenge Faulconer will have to overcome is name recognition in the state of California

On Wednesday, the LA Times reported that backers of the effort to recall Gov. Newsom had raised more than $2.5 million, but that might not be enough. 

Laura Fink, CEO of Rebelle Communications and a communications strategist, said there are three core issues on the viability of the recall: the validity of signatures, money, and the political environment.

“The group says they have collected 1.3 million signatures out of the 1.5 million. Just under half-a-million of those signatures have been validated. The question is how accurate are those signatures that they have collected,” Fink said.

Jeopardizing the efforts of signature gathering are money and the pandemic.

“The money will determine if they can pay those signature gathers to go out and secure signatures, which of course is hard to do during a pandemic,” said Fink.

Even if enough money is raised to secure and validate signatures to put the recall effort on the ballot, according to Fink, how dissatisfied the electorate is with Gov. Newsom’s leadership as the pandemic wears on will also play a crucial role.

“I’m running to be a voice for Californians suffering during this pandemic because Sacramento can’t do the basics, to restore balance and common-sense to California, and to get people back to work, back to school, and back to being proud of our state,” Faulconer said on Tuesday after launching his “California Comeback” campaign.

California’s political environment—as the pandemic rages on—gives Faulconer the best shot at winning, and it would not be the first time he has ridden a wave of a dissatisfied electorate before, as Fink points out. In fact, she said, it is how he launched his political career.

“He ran for city council in a special election after losing the cycle before. He won that seat in a special election after the candidate he ran against and lost to resigned. He ran for mayor in a special election after the previous City of San Diego mayor [Bob Filner] resigned. Now, he is hoping to engineer a recall effort of the governor so he can attempt to win a special election in a non-election year,” said Fink.

In 2016, however, Faulconer was re-elected to a full term as mayor and with overwhelmingly bipartisan support, despite the changing demographics of the city.

As the demographics of the City of San Diego have changed, so have the demographics of California, posing a challenge not just for Faulconer, who publicly supported and voted for Donald J. Trump, but for any Republican candidate.

“He [Faulconer] is a Republican in Democratic state. He is a Republican that said he voted for Trump. Even though he may have made different policy choices—toward a more moderate stance—that attachment to Trump in this state is a huge challenge,” said Fink.

In a heavily blue state in which no Republican has won a statewide office since 2006, any candidate running for governor will need to affiliate himself or herself with the Trump base and looking closer at numbers, Fink said that is exactly who is pushing and supporting the recall effort.

“They [the numbers] match nearly exact the percentage of people who voted for Donald J. Trump. It looks to be a largely conservative movement of people who are in line with an aggressive reopening strategy and to some degree, there are certain individuals within that possess some extreme view. It is your rank-and-file conservatives who are unsatisfied and want to see a full reopening and it is also built on people whose views are antithetical to the medical professionals who have advised for the stay-at-home orders and the masks,” she said.

During his time as mayor, Faulconer touted himself as a moderate Republican, and he benefited from high approval ratings. During his tenure, according to Fink, the economy was doing well, city budgets and coffers were full, allowing Faulconer to spend on funding according to the needs of voters in a way that satisfied them. As mayor, Faulconer selected pro-environmental issues to show his commitment to being a different kind of Republican.

Regarding his time as mayor, Faulconer touted San Diego as "the only big city in California where homelessness went down, not up."

Faulconer said the city was able to fix roads without raising taxes and that rather than defunding the San Diego Police Department budget amid public scrutiny regarding police operations, "I increased the budget."

"We shook up San Diego, and we're going to shake up Sacramento," he said.

“He’s going to run on his own effectiveness. His primary issue will be the issue of homelessness. He will make the claim that he improved homelessness within the City of San Diego," Fink said. "However, we know there was a statistical change in how homeless individuals are counted, but he gets to hold on to that number. He will also run on his record on the environment, and showing himself to be a different type of Republican. In terms of effectiveness, he is going to run against Gov. Newsom’s record more than he is going to run on his own record of service. He’s going to say it is time for somebody different."

Another challenge Fink believes Faulconer will have to overcome is name recognition in the state of California.

“Kevin Faulconer, no doubt, does not possess statewide name ID, but it is something that he has been working very diligently to remedy by going on national cable stations like Fox News to talk about his tenure as mayor. He’s also building up that war chest—$ 1 million will be spent, and probably more will be spent, in building that name ID,” she said.

Faulconer said he was prepared to run in the regularly scheduled 2022 election but said he believed the recall effort would be successful "because of the growing anger across California" regarding Newsom's "broken promises" in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic, homelessness, and jobs.

Former Republican Congressman Doug Ose said Wednesday he is considering entering the possible recall election, raising the possibility of another Republican joining a contest. Newsom’s 2018 rival, businessman John Cox, has indicated he'll become a candidate if the recall qualifies.

Gov. Newsom has previously said that he is remaining focused on managing the state's pandemic response and not on the recall effort.

Dan Newman, a spokesman for the governor, said in a statement to Spectrum News 1:

“Voters recognize that this is an incredibly challenging, intensely complicated, and critically important moment for public officials worldwide. That is why the Governor remains laser focused on vaccinations, reopening, relief, and recovery. While Faulconer and other Trump supporters like John Cox and Michael Cernovich compete in the Republican primary, we will stay focused on distributing the vaccine and providing relief and recovery to families and small businesses harmed by the virus.”

In Newsom's favor, according to Fink, is time and his current poll numbers, which she points out are nowhere near rock bottom like former Gov. Gray Davis' were at the time of his recall. 

"His poll numbers remain at a level where it would appear to continue to be difficult to recall him. What he has on his side is time. Even if the recall does qualify, which he has no control over, there will be a long duration between that qualification and an actual election, and it would be a unique election in that voters would have to first reject Gov. Newsom before they select antoher candidate," she said. 

For now, Faulconer, and other candidates who may jump into the race, will have to work on getting their message across, leading voters to reject Newsom before punching the ticket for their candidacy. 

"It's a tricky situation, and a lot of things can happen between now and then," said Fink. 


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