Gov. Gavin Newsom is happy to talk about Larry Elder.

Hammering the conservative radio host turned top replacement candidate in the upcoming recall race seems to be the latest strategy from Team Newsom. For the last few weeks, the governor’s consultants and aides have been busy pumping out tweets, press releases and fundraising emails highlighting Elder’s outside-the-mainstream views on the minimum wage (Elder believes there shouldn’t be one), climate change (a “crock,” he’s said) and race relations (“racism in today’s America approaches insignificance”).

Newsom’s focus on Elder has taken some pressure off the other GOP candidates, who have so far been reluctant to go after a front-runner so popular with the party base.

Elder leads the pack of replacement candidates in the polls and has already outraised most of the competition despite entering the race at the last minute. That alone could give Newsom reason to fixate on Elder.

But there’s another reason — one that the governor stated explicitly at a digital meeting of progressive activists on Monday:

  • Newsom: “Why is it important to focus on Larry? Well, to put in perspective what’s at stake here. Some say he’s the most Trump of the candidates. I say he’s even more extreme than Trump.”

Newsom and the Democratic Party have spent much of this election season characterizing the recall effort as the Golden State version of a Trump rally — an easy strategy in California where the former president is exceptionally unpopular. 

But that line didn’t quite work when former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer — a relative moderate who believes in climate change and more accommodating immigration policy — was leading the pack.

It lands a bit more seamlessly with Elder. 

Newsom has had some success in the past hyping up the candidate he wants to run against. But he should be careful what he wishes for, Claremont McKenna College professor Jack Pitney told me.

  • Pitney: “Sometimes a candidate you think is an easy target turns out not to be. A classic example in California is 1966.”

That year, then-Gov. Pat Brown (Jerry’s dad) was deathly afraid of facing George Christopher, then San Francisco’s mayor, and “covertly sabotaged” his campaign, preferring instead to go up against an inexperienced actor named Ronald Reagan. 

How’d that work out?

The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 3,959,797 confirmed cases (+0.24% from previous day) and 64,328 deaths (+0.02% from previous day), according to state data.

California has administered 44,779,047 vaccine doses, and 63.7% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

Plus: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. We’re also tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county and lawsuits against COVID-19 restrictions.

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1. The question for Gavin Newsom

Gov. Gavin Newsom delivers a speech during a rally at the Barrio Action Youth and Family Center in El Sereno, where he would sign the California Comeback Plan relief bill, on July 13, 2021. Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters
Gov. Gavin Newsom delivers a speech during a rally at the Barrio Action Youth and Family Center in El Sereno, where he signed the California Comeback Plan relief bill, on July 13, 2021. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

In the second installment of CalMatters’ new “Building Blocs” series, political reporter Laurel Rosenhall looks at the potentially decisive role of the state’s largest single ethnic group: Latinos.

The Sept. 14 recall will be a new opportunity for voters often bypassed on the campaign trail to flex their political muscle, said Christian Arana with the Latino Community Foundation.

  • Arana: “We have been a community that has been living in a society that has been celebrating us as essential but treating us like dirt. If you’re going to ask me to vote in this recall election, well what’s in it for me?“
  • Political consultant Mike Madrid: “What is turnout going to be? That is really the question for Gavin Newsom at this point.”

Newsom’s fate may hinge on the answer to that question — and both sides seem to know it. The governor is constantly talking up this year’s budget and how it will help Latino voters. Likewise, Faulconer’s first ad was in Spanish. So, too, is a new radio spot being pushed by the main pro-recall campaign, pointing to Newsom’s record on crime. 

More recall news: 

2. A perky labor market

Image via iStock

It’s a good time to be on the job hunt in California. 

As CalMatters economy reporter Grace Geyde found, restaurants and other blue-collar businesses, desperate to staff up, are starting to offer what have traditionally been white-collar perks — health benefits, referral bonuses, retirement plans and free yoga classes, to name a few. 

It’s an economics lesson that anyone who has tried to find an apartment in the Bay Area knows only too well: When supply is short, prices go up. 

And workers are in short supply. 

By the numbers: In June, California non-ag employers added 73,500 positions, but employment only increased by 24,500.

One of the reasons employees are scarce: It’s hard to work if your kid can’t go to school.

Newsom is expected to announce this morning a California-wide policy requiring all teachers and school employees to be vaccinated or face regular COVID tests, according to CalMatters education reporter Joe Hong. The move comes at the urging of many public health officials. It’s also probably good politics. The recall gives the governor plenty of motivation to get kids back in class for in-person instruction this fall. Plus, teacher unions have warmed to the idea.

3. Here comes the gravy train

Rendering of the California High Speed Rail via CA High Speed Rail Authority

In Washington, D.C., the impossible happened Tuesday: Democratic and Republican senators got together and passed a major piece of legislation. 

Assuming the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package passes the U.S. House, plenty of goodies are headed California’s way. 

Funding for many projects will be worked out by federal agencies once the bill becomes law. But one enterprise almost certain to benefit is California’s high-speed rail project.

Rail authority spokesperson Melissa Figueroa told the Los Angeles Times that the beleaguered project is eligible to compete for $20 billion to $40 billion in funding.

  • Figueroa: “The message that we’re getting out of the federal government is that they want to invest in clean, green electrified rail and high speed rail…that makes us very competitive.” 

The White House offered these other estimated minimums for California’s cut over the next five years:

  • $29.5 billion for highway and bridge repair and reconstruction
  • $9.5 billion for public transportation 
  • $384 million to build out the state’s electric vehicle charging network
  • $100 million to expand access to broadband internet 

Billions more would be set aside to help tackle forest management, put power lines underground and beef up water infrastructure across the West, all of which sounds pretty appealing at the moment.

But we could be waiting a while. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco has vowed to hold the package until the Senate passes a $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” budget framework favored by progressives.

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Newsom’s supporters are tuned out and no recent developments are likely to change that. That’s good news for the recall campaign.

Vaccinate the teachers: With millions of young California children who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated heading back to school, full vaccination of adults on campus is the best way to keep them safe, write Kate Ford and Laura Capps, trustees of the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Education.

The stakes on Sept. 14: The fate of hundreds of bills, its ability to respond to wildfire and COVID and even the future composition of the U.S. Senate — all could be determined by the outcome of the recall, writes Paul Kronenberg, a retired trade association executive.  

Get cool: California urgently needs to prepare for heat waves by expanding access to cooling. The California Energy Commission has an opportunity to help do so when it votes today on our statewide building code, argue Amee Raval, policy and research director at the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, and Jose Torres, California director at the Building Decarbonization Coalition.

Other things worth your time

PG&E powerline suspected as Dixie Fire started was due to be buried underground // Los Angeles Times

An encampment grows on Apple’s future corporate campus // Mercury News

Tech employees who relocated to cheaper parts of state and opt to work from home could see paycut // Reuters

Water district pays millions for illegally siphoning federal water // Sacramento Bee

After sweep of encampment cleared by Gov. Newsom some residents still searching for new place to live // Berkeleyside

L.A. deputies shot in ambush sue “ghost gun” manufacturer // Los Angeles Times

More heat coming for northern California this week // New York Times

Dixie, Bootleg, Goose: How wildfires get their names // KQED

Criminal justice professor suspected in arson spree near Dixie Fire // Sacramento Bee

Video: When the remote workers came to Truckee // Washington Post

Kevin Faulconer, YIMBY no more? // Voice of San Diego

See you tomorrow.

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Ben covers housing policy and previously covered California politics and elections. Prior to these roles at CalMatters, he was a contributing writer for CalMatters reporting on the state's economy and...