For months, Newsom deflected reporters’ questions about the recall, saying simply that he’s focused on his job as governor — working to improve vaccine distribution, reopen schools and help small businesses.
That changed in early March. Newsom used his unusual State of the State speech to lob a high-profile attack on his opponents, and then, a few days later, launched an official campaign to fight the recall. He promptly made the rounds on national television as California and national Democrats closed ranks to support him. Newsom’s strategy in a state that twice resoundingly rejected former President Donald Trump: Unite Democrats by portraying the recall as a fringey MAGA-inspired movement full of QAnon conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers.
An early attempt to push that message flopped in the aftermath of Trump loyalists’ Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. California Democrats held a press conference alleging links between the rioters and recall supporters, and calling the recall campaign a “California Coup.” Journalists immediately pointed out that a coup is an illegal seizure of power — while a recall is a democratic procedure enshrined in the California Constitution.
The California Democratic Party’s leader quickly walked back the “coup” comparison. But Democrats will continue tying the recall to Trump and the far right, given that the former president is deeply unpopular in California. That may be enough for Newsom to beat back the recall.
His campaign repeated the message after the secretary of state announced the recall campaign had turned in enough valid signatures. “The Republican recall — backed by partisan, pro-Trump, and far-right forces — threatens our values as Californians and seeks to undo the important progress we’ve made under Governor Newsom,” said a statement from campaign manager Juan Rodriguez.
Disaffected Democrats would have to support the recall in droves to make it successful in a state where just 24% of voters are registered Republicans and the GOP hasn’t won a statewide contest since 2006. Though they tend to vote for Democrats, roughly a quarter of California voters are not registered with either major party. So a key factor will be how much support Newsom hangs onto from liberal voters who don’t feel loyalty to him or the Democratic party.