recall election

Might Tom Steyer Run to Replace Gavin Newsom in a Recall Election?

The failed 2020 presidential candidate seems to be sniffing around the Newsom recall campaign. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Pretty much everyone in California seems to think Governor Gavin Newsom will face a recall election this fall. It may take weeks or even months before it’s official thanks to the many check-points in the system for verifying and reverifying petition signatures to put the issue before voters. But the very best sign that it’s happening is evidence from Politico that Newsom “kicked off a formal campaign opposing the effort to recall him, dropping over $150,000 in Facebook ads in a week to raise more funds and sign on supporters.”

That’s just a small drop in the bucket compared to the torrent of spending on the way. But Newsom’s strategy is very clear: making the recall a purely partisan fight, and not anything personal to him. He’s already circling many wagons:

A crowd of national Democratic leaders on Monday put their muscle behind California Gov. Gavin Newsom to fight the recall, dubbing it an extremist “Republican power grab” and launching their first opposition ad.

Sens. Elizabeth WarrenBernie Sanders and Alex Padilla, as well as Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) and Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams, all simultaneously announced their opposition to the recall efforts. The Democrats launched the official Stop the Republican Recall campaign, the clearest sign yet that the political establishment believes the recall election will qualify this year.

The new group has its own ad that makes no bones about the contention this is all about Democrats versus the right:

This strategy, of course, depends on party solidarity, which means that Democrats are giving a wide berth to the opportunity to run to replace Newsom if he is in fact recalled. The election will have two ballot lines: one to determine whether Newsom should be removed from office, and the other to choose a replacement, with Newsom ineligible. To this day, some California Democrats think Gray Davis might not have been recalled in 2003 had not Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante decided late in the process to run as a replacement candidate (Davis was recalled and Bustamante lost to Arnold Schwarzenegger).

So this news (also from Politico) could not have been welcome to Team No Recall: “Tom Steyer is polling the California recall…. And the billionaire environmental activist and erstwhile presidential hopeful has included his own name among the list of possible contenders to succeed Gov. Gavin Newsom, according to three people familiar with the recent survey.”

Steyer, of course, has the wealth to make a viable run in the replacement contest, particularly if he’s the only major Democrat on the ballot (three Republicans with some statewide name ID, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, former congressman Doug Ose and top 2018 GOP gubernatorial candidate John Cox, are already in the race with others looking at it).

You can expect Newsom allies to put pressure on Steyer to back away from the contest, just as some have hurled brushback pitches at former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2018. It’s a difficult situation for Newsom: if the recall campaign seems to be losing steam, he may have trouble raising money and organizing to beat it. But if it’s looking close (the latest public poll has the recall trailing 40 percent to 46 percent), the temptation for some ambition Democrat to jump into the contest could become overpowering. Steyer is nothing if not ambitious.

Will Tom Steyer Run for Gavin Newsom’s Job in a Recall?