A survey of California voters published on Monday didn’t have much good news for Golden State Democrats, but it had plenty of bad news and some that was just plain weird. The bad news from Survey USA is that among likely voters in the September 14 recall election, those favoring the eviction of incumbent Governor Gavin Newson lead those opposed by a 51-40 margin. It’s the first public poll to show recall supporters in the lead, though prior surveys had shown a narrowing margin on Newsom’s behalf, amid signs that turnout patterns could produce an upset thanks to Republican excitement and Democratic apathy.
If that actually happens, the second ballot line on September 14 would come into play: the vote to replace Newsom, with whoever wins a plurality getting an instant ticket to the governorship. But here’s the weird and not-so-grim finding by SUSA: On that secondary replacement vote, the current front-runner is not celebrity conservative radio host Larry Elder or former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer or top 2018 GOP gubernatorial candidate John Cox. It’s 29-year-old YouTube star and financial adviser Kevin Paffrath.
A lot of people are asking about Paffrath in the wake of the SUSA poll. In 2019, Curbed framed him as a “landlord influencer.” Here’s how the Southern California News Group’s Brooke Staggs describes him:
Paffrath graduated from UCLA in 2014 after studying economics, accounting and political science. He also became a real estate broker and opened his own company, Meet Kevin, The No-Pressure Agent.
In 2018, he launched his “Meet Kevin” channel on YouTube. Today, Paffrath has nearly 1.7 million subscribers and eight videos with more than 1 million views each, with his most popular video a 40-minute primer on how to purchase a rental property as a novice investor. In one video, Paffrath says his net worth is around $5 million thanks to real estate investments, stocks, YouTube income and other assets.
More to the point, Paffrath is the best known of nine self-identified Democrats who defied the state party’s efforts to boycott the replacement ballot (there are 24 Republicans in the running, along with ten indies, two Greens, and a Libertarian). So it’s not that shocking that he snags 27 percent of the replacement vote, ahead of Elder with 23 percent, Cox with 10 percent, Faulconer with 5 percent, and Caitlyn Jenner with 3 percent. Five percent are scattered among other candidates, and fully 20 percent are undecided.
If subsequent polling shows Paffrath doing anything like this well, it creates all kind of issues for California pols of every persuasion. For Republicans, the idea of bringing down the hated Newsom only to lose the governorship to a purportedly Democratic influencer would represent a devastating lost opportunity. So there could be a natural tendency for Republicans to consolidate behind a single candidate. But which one? Elder appears to be the strongest, but Falconer, Cox, and former congressman Doug Ose are the more conventional candidates. The state GOP, moreover, just gave up its own consolidating powers by deciding not to endorse a replacement candidate in a virtual vote by state party convention delegates.
The dilemma for Democrats is more complicated. Party leaders would prefer that its voters slam-dunk the recall and then ignore the replacement contest. They remember what happened in 2003 when the replacement candidacy of Democratic lieutenant governor Cruz Bustamante was thought to have helped ensure Gray Davis’s recall without boosting Bustamante to the governorship (won by Arnold Schwarzenegger with a minority of the replacement vote). One way of looking at it is that Democrats and Team Newsom can ignore Paffrath and just treat him as a last-gasp safety valve if the worst happens in the vote to recall or retain Newsom. But there are some Democratic constituency groups and good-government types that might prefer a Republican to Paffrath, whose platform is an eclectic “centrist” combo platter with items that will be hard to digest, according to Staggs:
On the right, there are his proposals to make all coronavirus safety measures optional, to ditch income tax for anyone making less than $250,000, to use the National Guard to get all unhoused Californians off the streets and to give trained gun owners more rights. His introduction video also features clips from Fox News and from conservative media host Ben Shapiro.
With mail ballots being sent out to all registered California voters no later than August 16, Team Newsom will definitely use the SUSA survey to convince Democratic voters to wake up and smell the flowers of evil that a Republican victory in the recall vote would represent. It’s unclear whether any Donkey Party passion will be spent on the replacement vote, and if it is, whether it will help or hurt Kevin Paffrath.