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California Voters Will Decide Whether To Remove Gov. Newsom From Office

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

California voters elected Gavin Newsom their governor in 2018. Now, one year early, they will vote on him again. His critics collected enough signatures to force a recall election. Here's Guy Marzorati of KQED.

GUY MARZORATI, BYLINE: California is a deep blue state, and Newsom was elected with 62% of the vote in 2018. But state law going back more than a century requires just 12% of voter signatures to force a recall election, one of the lowest thresholds in the country.

RANDY ECONOMY: I think the biggest thing was people of California were locked down by Governor Newsom.

MARZORATI: Recall campaign senior adviser Randy Economy blames the governor's COVID-19 restrictions on schools and businesses that lit a fuse of voter anger from both parties.

ECONOMY: His constant demand to make this about him and his edicts and his way or the highway, I think, is the thing that actually was his demise.

MARZORATI: Newsom also suffered politically from self-inflicted wounds, like when he was spotted dining at an upscale restaurant while discouraging Californians from gathering in the midst of a coronavirus lockdown. Overall, the governor still has strong support among California Democrats, and he argues the recall is a partisan campaign.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

GAVIN NEWSOM: It has to do with immigration, the browning of California. It has to do deeply with our values, the things we hold dear.

MARZORATI: Newsom indicated at a press conference last month he's taking the political threat seriously.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

NEWSOM: ...Because in these elections, who knows what can happen?

MARZORATI: It's not lost on Newsom that the only other governor to face a recall in California, fellow Democrat Gray Davis, was removed by voters in 2003. But Davis faced very low approval ratings and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger on the ballot. Newsom's approval rating stands at 53% among likely voters according to the Public Policy Institute of California. This year's recall is likely to set records for its cost.

KIM ALEXANDER: The registrars are anticipating that it could cost as much as $400 million to conduct this special recall election.

MARZORATI: That's Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, who says the rising costs are due to the state's expansion of voter access.

ALEXANDER: We have a lot more voters now in California than we used to, and we're mailing all of them a ballot. And those costs really do add up.

MARZORATI: The election will likely be scheduled for November. Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner are among the Republicans running to replace Newsom.

For NPR News, I'm Guy Marzorati in San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.