California reminder: Amid confusion over two-question ballot, Newsom’s strategy frustrates some other Democratic candidates

For Newsom, a beleaguered Democratic governor who has taken heat for his pandemic restrictions as well as the state’s drought and wildfire crises, the strategy is about participation. Running in a state with almost 2-to-1 registered Democrats, Newsom’s ability to keep his job hinges on having those Democratic voters turning over their ballots. Republicans clearly have a math problem in the state, but they have enthusiasm on their side for this election, which means the pro-Newsom camp can’t afford Democratic voters to be apathetic – or even slightly confused about Golden State’s recall process. and its bilateral ballot.
Voters will be asked two questions. One, do they want to call Newsom back? and two, who do they want to replace it? The idea is that if voters feel confused about Newsom’s list of over 40 potential replacement names that are largely unknown, they could keep their ballots longer or skip the vote altogether because they don’t have time to do the “research” or make an informed decision.

So far, Newsom’s bet appears to be paying off with reams of Democratic voters returning their ballots earlier. But it infuriated some of the Democratic replacement candidates, like financial analyst and real estate investor Kevin Paffrath, who argue that it is undemocratic to convince voters that they have no other choice on the ballot. .

Paffrath and other Newsom critics believe the advice to skip question two is selfish – protecting Newsom from the embarrassment of having to face a real Democratic challenger in the recall contest or when he runs for office again of governor in 2022.

“It’s either stupid or sabotage,” said Paffrath, who has 1.7 million followers on his YouTube channel. He notes that Newsom’s team’s efforts to get Democratic voters to ignore other candidates have made it difficult for him to spark interest in his ideas to tackle the housing crisis, homelessness and the cost of living. .

“I think that’s stupid, because Californians should vote for a replacement. If Governor Newsom loses the recall and Californians haven’t rallied around a replacement Democrat, then you’ve just guaranteed a win for one. Republican, ”Paffrath said. He estimated that if the Democrats had rallied around a backup candidate within their own party, they would “very likely be able to beat any of the Republicans in contention right now.”

Although there are nine Democrats in the running, none of them is a well-known candidate, which has caused some consternation among Democrats who are not close to Newsom over the lack of an option. fallback. The fear is that Californians could vote to recall Newsom, perhaps angered by his response to the pandemic and the state’s wildfire, housing and homeless crises, but that there would be no no solid Democratic alternative to replace him. Under state law, a majority is expected to vote to remove Newsom, but if he is impeached, the replacement candidate receiving the most votes will be elected for the remainder of the governor’s term, which ends in January. 2023. This means that a new governor could be elected by simple majority vote.

It was of particular concern this summer when Tory talk show host Larry Elder, a Republican, rose to the top of the pack in the poll of replacement candidates.

Fears of a Republican victory subsided as Democrats watched Newsom successfully arm the ideological contrast between him and Elder, making the top GOP candidate a Trump sidekick and trying to race on national issues that energize the democratic base.

Democratic consultant Michael Trujillo said Newsom and the Democratic Party finally made “an informed bet” in telling their constituents not to answer question two.

“What the Newsom team was doing was preventing anyone from falling in love with any of the replacement candidates,” Trujillo said. “So if you don’t fall in love with them, then you’re dissuading anyone from voting ‘yes’ on the recall. That’s the whole piece there.”

But critics like Paffrath don’t see it that way, arguing that this year’s recall is very different from 2003, the first and last time a California governor was successfully recalled. Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger ran as moderate that year and was appointed to power after voters overthrew unpopular Democratic Governor Gray Davis.

“There’s no Arnold on the ballot this time around – there’s no one with that broad love that Arnold had when he walked in,” Paffrath said. “I think the 2003 election is their excuse, but it’s mostly out of selfishness to keep Gavin,” Paffrath said of Newsom and his team.

There are nearly two dozen replacement candidates who are not aligned with the Republican Party, but the Newsom team argues that urging voters to ignore question two is the only way to prevent a Republican takeover from California.

When Davis was recalled in 2003, there had been another well-known Democrat on the ballot. Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante had entered the race as a save option for Democrats, and was castigated for many years afterwards (right or wrong) as a spoiler. Although Bustamante said he opposed the recall at the time, conventional wisdom was that his presence in the race gave Democrats who hated Davis an excuse to vote “yes” on his recall because they could justify their call. vote by choosing another Democrat to replace him. .

In that special statewide recall election in October 2003, 55.4% of voters said they wanted to recall Davis. When asked who they wanted to replace him, 48.6% chose Schwarzenegger and 31.5% chose Bustamante.

The confusion persists

Even though data on the early return of the ballot suggests Newsom’s strategy is bearing fruit – Democrats outperforming their state registration level on Saturday – and Newsom’s chances of retaining his office are improving, according to the latest poll, many voters are still grappling with what to do with the second question.

About half of the likely voters (49%) in a Public Policy Institute of California survey published last week, either said they hadn’t decided on a potential candidate to replace him or they were skipping the second-round question altogether.

Of those who expressed a preference, 26% favored Elder while the other major replacement candidates were in single digits: former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer at 5%, businessman John Cox at 3% , Member of the National Assembly Kevin Kiley at 3% and Caitlyn Jenner at 1%. (The other potential replacement candidates have not been named, according to PPIC).

A quarter of likely voters said they would not choose anyone or vote on this issue; while 24% said they did not know.

Among Democrats, 37% said they were not favorable to anyone or would not vote; while 30% said they were not sure; and 16% said they plan to vote for someone else who is not named in the second ballot question, which could include a written response.

To clarify the confusion for voters who do not understand why they should vote for a potential candidate for removal if they have just answered a voting question saying they want to keep their governor, the Secretary of State’s office of California informed voters that the questions are separate from them and that they are not required to answer both for their vote to count.

Despite concerns from Democrats like Paffrath that Newsom and his allies’ efforts to get voters to skip the second question could deprive them of a solid backup option, some anti-recall voters said they were not. not bothered by the strategy.

“I read in the news that Newsom would rather we kick him with just a ‘no’ – don’t even put another choice,” said Democrat Lauren Wood, a 71-year-old singer-songwriter who attended. at Newsom’s rally with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren on Saturday.

Wood said she tries not to worry that Democrats don’t have a backup for Newsom. “I hope, I pray that he is not recalled. It pisses me off that we are wasting this money on a recall when the election is a year away,” she said.

“The horrible, horrible shock took place when (Donald) Trump won. So if that happened, that (recall) could happen. I just hope the Democrats aren’t complacent about it.”

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