In summary

The Democrats have botched their recall options: No prominent Democrat officially has entered the recall race. As a result, conservative talk-show host Larry Elder, the leading contender, could be elected with 18% of the vote.

By Ralph E. Shaffer, Special to CalMatters

Ralph E. Shaffer is professor emeritus of history at
Cal Poly Pomona, reshaffer@cpp.edu.

Democrat Culbert Olson was the last California governor to serve a single four-year term (which ended in 1943). Gavin Newsom may well be the state’s next one-term governor. 

In fact, with Newsom facing a recall in September, he likely won’t last through his first four years.

In the few weeks remaining before the Sept. 14 recall election, Newsom will be forced to make some very hard decisions because of the surging Delta variant of COVID-19. When he again bans youth sports, he could lose thousands of votes of the “Let Them Play” parents, and that may be enough for him to be recalled. 

Any announcement of a state lockdown, though necessary, will be his doom. A Democratic write-in candidate is essential. 

The Democrats, however, have botched their recall options: No prominent Democrat officially entered the recall race and the party chief has railed against it. That strategy was intended to show solidarity for the embattled Newsom, but it may prove costly.

If Newsom is recalled, it may guarantee that a Republican will replace him. Conservative talk-show host Larry Elder, the leading contender in the most recent poll, could be elected governor with only 18% of the vote.

What must the Democrats do to prevent a Republican takeover if the recall carries? A write-in is the only option — unless the party wants to unite behind one of the nobodies who did enter the race as a Democrat. A write-in candidate must register with the state by Aug. 31.

A Democratic write-in candidate is almost a shoo-in, now that the Republican Party has refused to endorse one of their own. With the Republican vote split among five big-name candidates, a single well-known Democrat write-in would poll close to 50% of the recall vote. At the same time, Newsom could be recalled by a slim margin.

How does “Gov. Garamendi” sound? Great alliteration, but in an email U.S. Rep. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove) respectfully declined to be a write-in. His refusal, however, calls for his party to unite behind a single candidate.

Eric Garcetti, the termed-out mayor of Los Angeles, would be a vote-drawing Democratic write-in candidate. Garcetti, recently appointed ambassador to India, was expected to run for governor after Newsom had served two full terms. Surely he would be willing to trade the ambassadorship for a term in Sacramento.

Gray Davis, the only governor California voters have recalled, is a possible write-in. He’s not termed out — he only served a year of his second term. If he should win the recall, the courts would decide if he could run for re-election in 2022. But surely he would like the opportunity to undo that dreadful loss 18 years ago to Arnold Schwarzenegger.  

No matter who the party selects to be the official Democratic write-in, that candidate must avoid the mistake the Democrats made in 2003. The only significant Democrat on the ballot in that recall election was Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, whose inept campaign dismayed Democratic voters. Bustamante should have campaigned on a single issue — vote “no” on the recall — which is what the Democratic write-in must do this time. 

Will the Democratic Party unite behind a single write-in candidate? If not, California could have Elder for the remainder of Newsom’s term. 

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