California Recall Election Set for Sept. 14

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 (David McNew/AFP/Getty Images)

The date of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recall election has been set. Voters will head to the polls Sept. 14.

Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis set the date of the election Thursday, hours after Secretary of State Shirley Weber officially certified the recall. Weber's certification came after she received the final election cost estimate of $276 million from the Department of Finance.

In a statement, Kounalakis said she believes she's chosen a fair and reasonable date.

"It has always been my intention to choose an election date that gives election officials and the public ample time to ensure a smooth election with broad participation," she said.

Candidates who want to be considered for Newsom's seat, should he be removed from office, have until July 17 to officially file for the race. Democratic political consultant Robin Swanson said the relatively short time frame makes it less likely the ballot will be swamped with possible replacements for Newsom, like it was in 2003 when 135 candidates vied to replace then-Gov. Gray Davis.

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"I think what we saw in the Gray Davis recall election was everyone and their brother joining in as candidates and running for office," she said. "And in this instance, people are going to have to file quickly. They either will have already announced that they are running or they're going to have to do it in the next couple of weeks."

The process moved much quicker than was expected when the recall qualified for the ballot. Initially, it seemed most likely the election would take place in October or November. But as COVID rates fell and the economy boomed, Democrats started thinking it might be better for the election to be held sooner rather than later. Newsom even signed legislation this week aimed at speeding up the process. Swanson believes the earlier date will be good for the state.

"We'll be ripping the  Band-Aid off quickly and get it done in September so we can all move on with our lives and go back to governing the state of California," she said.

But even with their campaign time cut short, Newsom's opponents are still determined to give the governor a fight. Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a Republican, said in a statement he's ready to lead.

"Change is coming for California and retirement is coming for Gavin Newsom," Faulconer said.

Still, Newsom appears to be in a strong position heading into the election.  According to a May poll from the Public Policy Institute of California, just about 40% of likely voters think Newsom should be recalled. The poll also found 57% of likely voters say they will reject the recall effort on the ballot this fall, and vote to keep Newsom in office.

Newsom's campaign issued a statement describing the election as “a naked attempt by Trump Republicans to grab control in California." It called on his supporters to "defend our state."

The GOP field is expected to continue to grow. Conservative talk show host Larry Elder, 69, issued a brief statement Wednesday night saying he was seriously considering entering the race and would announce his decision early next week. His entry into the race would give the Republican field a jolt of celebrity sparkle and a name on the ticket known through his nationally syndicated radio show and appearances on Fox News.

Along with Faulconer, other Republicans who have said they will run include Republican businessman John Cox, who was defeated by Newsom in 2018, former U.S. Rep. Doug Ose and reality TV personality and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner.

In a statement, Cox said "a new day" is coming for California and that "the insiders and allies have done their best to manipulate the election date for the pretty boy Governor, but it doesn’t matter. The people are tired of corruption and politicians who don’t deliver."

In a recall election, voters would be asked two questions: First, should Newsom be removed, yes or no? The second question would be a list of replacement candidates to choose from if a majority of voters cast ballots to remove Newsom.

Tom Del Beccaro, a former head of the state Republican Party who chairs Rescue California, one of the groups promoting the recall, said Elder would help drive up support for the critical first question in his home Los Angeles area, the most populous in the state.

“Statewide races in California are often won or lost in L.A. county,” said Del Beccaro, who is not aligned with any candidate. Elder “is going to bring a constituency that is going to help us get a ‘yes’ on the question No. 1.”

Steve Frank, a longtime conservative activist serving as Elder's spokesman, said his entry into the race would become “a major game-changer.” People across the political spectrum “know him, and many listen to his show.”

Elder, a Black man, also would bring more diversity to the Republican ranks.

Claremont McKenna College professor and political scientist Jack Pitney said Elder's entry into the race would be a setback for Cox because “Elder would appeal to the hard-core Republican, conservative base that would have been Cox's base.” Faulconer is considered a GOP moderate.

The Associated Press' Michael R. Blood and Kathleen Ronayne contributed to this report.