SACRAMENTO — California Democrats gambled by accelerating the date for the state’s Sept. 14 recall election that could cost Gov. Gavin Newsom his job. Their hope is that during a relatively brief stretch of about 10 weeks, the economy will continue to rebound, Coronavirus cases will remain low and the embattled Democratic governor can avoid any politically embarrassing missteps.
The risk is that it doesn’t go that way.
The mid-September date was formalized Thursday by Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, a Democrat and Newsom ally, after election officials certified that enough valid petition signatures had been turned in to qualify the election for the ballot.
Her decision came after political maneuvering in the Democratic-dominated Legislature that cleared the way for a late-summer election, rather than the fall contest many had been expecting.
Newsom has steadied his public standing since the tumultuous depths of the pandemic, when his popularity declined. With recent polls showing Newsom would beat back the recall, Democrats believe the earlier date will benefit his chances.
Businessman John Cox, one of the leading Republicans in the race, shrugged off the strategy.
Newsom’s “insiders and allies have done their best to manipulate the election date ... but it doesn’t matter,” Cox said in a statement.
Wildfires “are starting to rage, we’re still not sure schools will open on time, homelessness is out of control and taxes are way too high,” Cox added. “We have shortages of electricity and water. Crime is out of control. ... Newsom will be recalled.”
The election in the nation’s most populous state will be a marquee contest with national implications, watched closely as a barometer of the public mood heading toward the 2022 elections, when a closely divided Congress again will be in play.
The announcement will set off a furious burst of campaigning through the California summer, a time when voters typically ignore politics to enjoy vacationing, barbecuing and traveling.
It’s not uncommon in California for residents to seek recalls but they rarely get on the ballot — and even fewer succeed. A sitting governor has been ousted just once in the state, when unpopular Democrat Gray Davis was recalled in 2003 and replaced by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Many voters have yet to pay attention to the emerging election. And while polls have shown Newsom surviving the recall, those same surveys reveal signs of an unsettled public. Independent voters, for example, tend to view his job performance skeptically and most say the state is going in the wrong direction.