Who might run to replace Newsom?

Likely Newsom opponents in a recall election from left: Kevin Faulconer, John Cox, Doug Ose and Caitlyn Jenner. Photos by Gage Skimore via Flickr; Samantha Young for CalMatters; Andrew Nixon, Capitol Public Radio; Stephen McCarthy/Web Summit via Flickr

Caitlyn Jenner, a reality TV personality and former Olympic athlete, has launched a campaign. John Cox, a Republican businessman who lost to Newsom in 2018; Kevin Faulconer, the Republican former mayor of San Diego; and Doug Ose, a GOP former congressman from the Sacramento area have said they’re in. Ric Grenell, a former Trump official from Palm Springs, has hinted that he may run.

After the recall qualifies for the ballot, many other candidates will likely emerge as well. When Gray Davis was recalled in 2003, 135 people ran to replace him — including political novices like child actor Gary Coleman and pornographer Larry Flynt. One of the unconventional candidates from 2003 — adult film actress Mary Carey — says she’s running again.

Former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya said on his podcast that he would put his name on the ballot if the Newsom recall qualifies, but then walked it back a couple weeks later, saying he’s not ready to run. He isn’t registered with either party, but has donated to Democrats, and criticizes the governor for California’s slow vaccine rollout and high taxes.

It’s not clear right now if any Democrats would run to replace Newsom. “Anything and everything is on the table,” California Democratic Party leader Rusty Hicks said in January. 

One theory is that Newsom would be better positioned to beat back the recall if the options to replace him are too conservative for most California voters. “If they want to hold onto the governorship… it would be in Democrats’ best interests not to put up an alternate candidate,” said Democratic political consultant Marva Diaz, an editor of the nonpartisan California Targetbook. That would allow Democrats to focus on telling voters to vote “no” on the recall, and allow them to steer clear of a confusing message like, “Vote no on the recall, but if you vote yes, vote for…”

The other theory? “It would be political malpractice not to have a Democrat on the ballot on the second question” as insurance if Newsom’s numbers worsen, said Mike Madrid, a GOP political consultant not involved in the recall. 

Dave Gilliard, a Republican consultant working on the recall campaign, anticipates a large field of candidates from across the political spectrum: “Once it’s apparent that the recall is going to be on the ballot, I think there will be major candidates from all parties, even independents. Voters will have lots of choices. I don’t think either party can control who will run and not run.”