California Dems May Put All Their Eggs in the Newsom Basket

Party leaders don’t want a replacement on the recall ballot.


When California Gov. Gray Davis faced a recall vote in 2003, then–Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante—like Davis a Democrat—presented himself as a potential new governor should Davis be recalled. The voters recalled Davis, and Bustamante was soundly beaten as a replacement by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Now another Democratic governor is facing a recall election in California. This time party leaders don't seem eager even to hint that they lack confidence in Gavin Newsom's future as governor. According to NBC, no major Democrats within the state are considering doing what Bustamante did and running as a potential replacement:

Newsom can't run to replace himself. And he's pushing that no Democrat run as a "just in case" candidate.

"No and no," said Newsom senior adviser Dan Newman when asked if there will be or should be another Democrat in the race as an insurance policy. "Every significant Democrat has endorsed the governor and opposes the recall. There's little interest or support for it beyond that hardcore Trumpian base. So there's little need for a Plan B."

Perhaps a Newsom adviser is not the best choice to answer the question of whether any Dems are thinking of running. But Newman is correct that, at the moment, Democrats are locking arms and decrying the recall. That's an easy and risk-free decision at the moment, since the most recent polling shows only 36 percent of voters supporting Newsom's ouster.

When voters get their recall ballots, they'll have the option to vote on whether they want to keep or recall Newsom. Regardless of whether they vote for the recall, they'll still get to vote for a replacement, so the decision not to run a big-name Democrat could present a challenge should Newsom's numbers start to plunge or if the polls are off.

As the temperature heats up in California, there's a high likelihood of summer heat waves leading to rolling blackouts, both for safety reasons to prevent wildfires (given that the state has successfully held power companies liable for wildfire deaths) and because of environmental mandates that have made the state's power grid unreliable under stress. California has had an extremely dry year so far, and rain levels are far below normal all across the state.

If and when those blackouts come, the pundits may pay more attention to how it affects Newsom's poll numbers than how it affects the people who lose power. The Los Angeles Times notes that Newsom has said that these blackouts are the "new normal" due to the need to prevent wildfires—but when the backlash hit, he changed his tune and blamed the power companies for not clearing out fire hazards near power lines.

The Times also downplays a bit the effect that these power outages have while not completely dismissing them:

Shut-offs are a key tool to protect Californians and their homes from the threat of utility-caused blazes. But the practice creates other risks to public safety and problems for people who rely on electricity for medical needs. Prolonged outages also aggravate residents as basic services and simple luxuries, such as a cold refrigerator and an air-conditioned home in the sweltering summer heat, are taken away.

There are parts of California where temperatures will hover around 108 when these outages come. Dismissing a refrigerator and air conditioning as a "simple luxury" is a bizarre way of describing the potentially dangerous consequences for people who live in the state's deserts and not the breezy, milder coasts.

In any event, it's not actually the party's call if a candidate decides to run as a Democrat. The recall is essentially a big free-for-all. Any California citizen who meets the requirements to run for office may do so. Wikipedia lists six people who have already declared their intent to run as Democrats. None are remotely notable.

According to the same poll that shows low support for recalling Newsom, 48 percent of registered Democrats say they would like the party to put up an alternative candidates in the event Newsom is recalled. Only 29 percent oppose presenting Democratic alternatives.

The top candidates who have announced thus far aren't exactly burning up the polls. Republicans Kevin Faulconer and John Cox are sitting at 22 percent support each. Caitlyn Jenner's announcement has landed with a massive thud—only 6 percent said they were inclined to support her candidacy. Libertarian candidate Jeff Hewitt was not included in the poll.

Schwarzenegger had higher numbers in the months leading up to the Davis recall. Even so, only 31 percent said they'd consider voting for the actor three months before voters actually decided to vote Davis out. So those summer months matter.