Recall Heats Up as Newsom, Challengers Rally Supporters

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Gov. Gavin Newsom is flanked by state and local Democratic officeholders in a photo.
Gov. Gavin Newsom is flanked by state and local Democratic officeholders as he urges a no vote in California's gubernatorial election, at Manny's in San Francisco on August 13, 2021.  (Guy Marzorati/KQED)

Polls show Gov. Gavin Newsom in more trouble than previously thought, even as ballots are already landing in voters' mailboxes across the state. It was against that backdrop that the governor and his main challengers held in-person and online media events Friday in hopes of rallying voters to their cause.

Newsom returned to the city he once governed for his event,  surrounding himself with a who's-who of San Francisco politicos who collectively sang his praises. They also warned about the cost of apathy among Democrats who might not be taking the recall threat seriously.

"We're here because the polls are close. They are too close," said Assemblymember David Chiu, D-San Francisco, one of the elected officials gathered at Manny's in the city's Mission district.

Warning against overconfidence, Chiu asked Democrats to "remember how we all felt the night before the election in 2016, the presidential election. We thought we had it in the bag."

As voters are presented with a unique recall ballot, Newsom focused his message on the first question at hand: Should the governor be removed from office?


"It's a simple thing: Just vote 'no' and go to the mailbox and get these ballots back," said Newsom.

The governor urged voters to skip the second part of the ballot, which asks voters to pick a potential replacement for Newsom, should a majority vote to recall.

Moments later, San Francisco Mayor London Breed struck up a chant: "Just vote no!"

Nine of the 46 candidates vying to replace Newsom are Democrats. Kevin Paffrath, a Southern California realtor known for his investment advice videos on YouTube, is the only Democrat to make any traction in the polls. On Friday, he stood outside of Newsom's rally, offering himself as a "backup" in case the governor is ousted.

"We don't need to leave question two blank," said Paffrath. "Leaving question two blank is a lack of civic duty, it's sabotage of democracy."

The only opposing candidate Newsom mentioned by name was Larry Elder, the Los Angeles-based talk show host who is leading the replacement field in the polls.

The governor slammed Elder's positions on abortion rights, gun control, taxes and the minimum wage, labeling Elder "to the right of Donald Trump."

"Larry Elder is running away with this on the other side," Newsom said. "I just hope folks [know] what could happen on Election Day if we don't turn out in historic numbers to vote no on this recall."

Elder, the darling of conservative media appeared on a Zoom press conference where he was introduced by former Monterey Park Mayor Betty Chu. In his remarks, Elder emphasized public safety and the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, promising to build more prisons and reverse parole recommendations for people who committed violent crimes.


Elder also announced he was supporting efforts to recall "soft on crime" district attorneys George Gascon in Los Angeles and Chesa Boudin in San Francisco. (Boudin was among those appearing at Newsom's press conference.)

Elder also decried recent calls for police reform.

"Many people on the left argue that the police are using deadly force against Black people just because they're Black," Elder said. "And the studies have shown for decades that is not true." The radio personality alleged that relentless criticism of police use of excessive force have led to "passive policing, as opposed to proactive policing," meaning more officers are just sitting in their cars phoning in calls rather than actively pursing criminals.

Elder promised to reverse the trend toward rehabilitation instead of longer periods of incarceration, even though much of that would require a vote of the people.

"I also think that we need to build enough prisons to store people who committed bad things," he said. "I think people who commit crimes should be put behind bars for the length of their sentences and I'm going to be tough on crime."

Elder, who is Black, spent considerable time talking about issues affecting people of Asian descent, including hate crimes, in a way that could stoke interracial animosity.

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"The dirty little secret is that a lot of Asian Americans are being attacked by Blacks and the newspapers want it underreported because they don't want to make Black people look bad. But we don't get anywhere without telling the truth," Elder said.

He also criticized affirmative action, saying Asian Americans were often disadvantaged by it. He called out Lowell High School in San Francisco, where the San Francisco Board of Education recently voted to end admissions based on grades and merit and instead use a lottery-based system.

"That, to me, is an attack on merit and is an unfair attack on qualified, hardworking Asian American students," he said.

Before the event, the Elder campaign said  preference for following questions would be given to "media from the communities affected by the issues we will discuss." True to their word, the campaign only called on reporters from Chinese-language news outlets, including one who described himself as "a longtime fan."

To date, Elder, along with Caitlyn Jenner, has declined to participate in candidate debates with fellow Republicans, including one next week sponsored by the Sacramento Press Club.

None of the replacement candidates will become governor unless  a majority of voters supports the recall.  In that case, whichever candidate gets the most votes, no matter how small the percentage, will become governor.

The last day to vote in the recall election is September 14.