National Republicans dive into Newsom recall push

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National Republicans for the first time are jumping into the effort to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom, the party’s most aggressive move yet to oust the first-term Democrat.

The Republican National Committee is investing $250,000 into the recall campaign, launching a digital and texting program encouraging Californians to sign onto a petition that would qualify the recall for a vote later this year.

To this point, the national party had stayed out of the recall effort, instead leaving it up to local activists to gather signatures. Two state-based groups that have been helping to lead the push, the California Patriot Coalition and Rescue California, say they have over 1.5 million signatures and project they will have 1.6 million by the end of the weekend.

Organizers must submit 1.5 million valid signatures to the secretary of state’s office by March 17 in order to qualify the recall for the ballot, but they say they are trying to gather hundreds of thousands more because elections officials inevitably deem some invalid.

The RNC is partnering with the state GOP, which has also been heavily involved in the signature-gathering push.

The party’s investment is modest — but it demonstrates that as the recall is becoming more likely, national donors are increasingly zeroing in on the political fight.

GOP officials say the recall — which has quickly emerged as one of the highest-profile battles of the year — is a prominent cause around which the party can unify in the run-up to the 2022 midterm elections and paper over the civil war between forces aligned with former President Donald Trump and those who want Republicans to distance themselves from him.

Newsom’s opponents once faced long odds in qualifying the recall for the ballot, but they gained momentum in mid-November, when a mask-less Newsom was photographed at a crowded party at an upscale Napa Valley restaurant. The governor has faced intense blowback, with critics accusing him of defying the stringent coronavirus protocols he himself implemented.

As part of the RNC’s investment, volunteers will phone California residents and urge them to sign the petition.

“Gov. Newsom’s authoritarian measures, blatant overreach and complete mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic have proven that he is woefully unqualified to lead the state of California,” RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel said in a statement. “It is time the people use their constitutional recourse to remove him from power."

Anne Dunsmore, a veteran California-based GOP operative who is helping to spearhead the recall push said, “That the RNC is even thinking about entering this is even more proof positive that it’s even past picking up steam. It’s inevitable [the recall will qualify] and is one of the most important items on the national political scene this year.”

The Republican Governors Association, another well-funded national GOP organization, is also closely tracking the recall. The group has been in touch with people close to the petitioning process, has spoken with several potential candidates and recently commissioned a poll of a prospective race.

RNC officials say their decision to invest in the race will also give them an opportunity to test their volunteer capacity as they begin to prepare for the 2022 midterm elections. While Republicans haven’t won a statewide race in California since 2006, last year they clawed back three of the Southern California House seats they lost in the 2018 midterms.

Newsom has come under heavy criticism in recent months for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the state’s hard-hit economy. His poll numbers have dropped in recent surveys, with one showing his approval rating down to 46 percent.

The lone California gubernatorial recall took place in 2003, when then-Gov. Gray Davis was booted from office and replaced by professional bodybuilder and Hollywood star Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican.

Should the recall qualify for the ballot, political observers say it would likely take place in November. The ballot would have two questions: the first, an up-or-down vote on whether to remove Newsom from office, and the second being who should replace him. Should a majority of voters support a recall, the candidate with the most votes on the second question on the ballot would become governor. (Newsom would not be eligible to appear on the ballot if the recall passes.)

The Newsom team has tried to cast the recall as fueled by Trump and his allies, hoping to diminish support for removal in a state where the former president barely managed to win one-third of the vote.

Newsom strategist Dan Newman said the RNC’s decision was “not a surprise,” adding that “it’s been well-documented that right-wing extremists have been leading this effort.”

“People here want to stay focused on vaccinating and reopening, without the distraction of a $100 million special election circus a few months before a scheduled election,” he added.

Still, Newsom appears to be taking the threat seriously. He has become increasingly visible over the past week, holding a series of press conferences to promote mass coronavirus vaccination clinics.

The White House has also weighed in, with press secretary Jen Psaki taking to Twitter to declare that President Joe Biden "clearly opposes any effort to recall" Newsom.

Anticipating that the recall will qualify, the would-be Newsom replacements have already begun sniping at one another. Earlier this week, Republican John Cox, a wealthy businessperson who lost badly to Newsom in 2018, began airing a TV ad targeting former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

Cox and Faulconer have already announced their candidacies against Newsom in 2022 and say they will seek a spot on the ballot if the recount qualifies. Former Rep. Doug Ose (R-Calif.) has also been mentioned as a potential contender, and Trump allies have been encouraging Ric Grenell, who served as ambassador to Germany and the acting director of national intelligence in the Trump administration, to jump into the race.

Organizers of the California Patriot Coalition and Rescue California say they have raised a combined $3.5 million. Most of the donations have come from within the state, though the effort has increasingly drawn attention from national givers. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s political action committee recently cut a $25,000 check.

Recall leaders have used the recent cash influx to pay professional signature gatherers. David Sacks, a San Francisco venture capitalist and former Newsom supporter, has given $65,000 to help fund the effort, organizers say; other major givers are also helping.

The state GOP, meanwhile, says it has made 900,000 phone calls to residents asking them to sign the petition and has recruited 3,000 new volunteers.

“Holding Gov. Newsom accountable is my top priority,” said Jessica Patterson, the state GOP chair, “and I am thrilled that our party is united behind this effort as we continue to build grassroots support across the state.”

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