Newsom adviser spars with California recall leader in first campaign preview

Governor Gavin Newsom speaks during a press conference in San Francisco, Calif. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

OAKLAND – Is the effort to oust Governor Gavin Newsom over his pandemic or Republican extremism?

It depends on which campaign you’re asking.

The Californian combatants previewed the likely topics of a recall campaign during a lively panel discussion on Wednesday. Their first major clash since the elections was almost certain last month.

Proponents of the recall argue that they represent voters disaffected by Newsom’s inconsistent and arbitrary coronavirus orders. Newsom’s defenders equate protecting the Democratic governor with defending California liberalism against the invasion of Trumpism.

Newsom and its allies have long tried to portray the recall as a conservative fringe party-political diversion, drawing attention to organizers’ comments criticizing vaccinations and pondering microchip immigrants on Facebook. The National Republican Party has supported the recall effort, which has also received money from Trump supporters and prominent Conservative figures like former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

“We came here because a Trump Republican-led faction is trying to make a major takeover after losing power in Washington, DC,” said Ace Smith, Newsom’s top adviser a discussion at the Sacramento Press Clubciting conspiracy theorists from Proud Boys and QAnon. “You can choose to side with right-wing conspiracy theorists or people who actually have a vision to move the state forward,” he added.

Anne Dunsmore, chair of the recall committee, said voters across the political spectrum had signed up because they were turned down by the impression that Newsom had failed to follow restrictions burdening other Californians, arguing that the campaign frustrated suburban mothers as well as Would appeal to Latino voters. She told POLITICO in February that two-thirds of the signatories were Republicans, compared with 22 percent non-party and 10 percent Democrats.

She pointed to Newsom’s infamous decision to dine with lobbyists and friends at an opulent restaurant while urging the Californians to stay home and the fact that his children were back to study in person at their private school, despite most public schools stayed closed. And she argued that far-right supporters are not at the heart of the campaign, while she said that Newsom’s defenders include far-right activists.

“I could take some pictures of the left fringe too,” replied Dunsmore Smith. “We’re both tormented by people in our parties who don’t represent the mainstream at all.”

While pandemic fears drove the recall to the brink of qualification, an official petition preceding the coronavirus cited Newsom’s actions to protect undocumented immigrants, stop executions and increase business tax. Smith argued that proponents of the recall wanted to go back to the period that preceded the current Democratic dominance in California, citing a 1994 election initiative that sought to end services for unauthorized immigrants.

“You are deeply mistaken if you believe this is a direct referendum on Gavin Newsom,” said Smith. “This is a debate about the direction this state should go.”

However, Dunsmore dismissed those arguments, saying the recall was an impartial referendum on Newsom’s pandemic management. The campaign is likely to turn this issue on its head as it seeks to convince moderate, non-party voters in deep blue California. Democrats control every national office, exercise super majorities in the legislature, and outweigh registered Republicans by nearly five million voters.

“You can keep throwing the partisan rhetoric at it,” but “it really didn’t stay and it didn’t get stuck because it isn’t true,” said Dunsmore. “You can keep throwing Trump at it – Trump has not given a single opinion on this recall.”

The county registrars have until the end of April to determine if supporters have collected enough signatures to force an election. But Newsom has treated a campaign as a foregone conclusion, stating that the recall will likely qualify if endorsements – and fundraising requests – are introduced from Democratic hits like Sen. Bernie Sanders and voting advocate Stacey Abrams.

Assuming it’s qualified, voters would likely weigh in this fall. The ballot would raise two questions: should Newsom be recalled and who should replace it? Recent polls put Newsom in a strong position to survive. Only 40 percent of voters say they would vote to call him back.

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