And Mr. Newsom, notwithstanding 53 percent job approval ratings, has lacked the personal popularity of, say, former Gov. Jerry Brown, his predecessor. The governor must beat back the recall decisively, said Steve Maviglio, a California Democratic political consultant, “because if the margin is close, there’ll be blood in the water,” potentially complicating Mr. Newsom’s re-election in 2022.
The recall ballot asks Californians to answer two questions: Should Mr. Newsom be recalled, and if so, who should replace him? If a simple majority votes no on the first question, the second is moot. But if the recall passes, the governor’s post will go to the challenger with the most votes, even if only a tiny sliver of the electorate chooses that person — a feature that has prompted calls for reform from critics.
Nathan Click, a former spokesman for the governor who is now working against the recall, said Mr. Newsom’s team understood early that they would need to make their case quickly. As early as December — six months before the recall would officially qualify for the ballot — the governor’s supporters were echoing the language of their official petition responses, decrying proponents as “anti-vaccine pro-Trump extremists.”
In January, the state Democratic Party chairman called the recall “a California coup,” comparing it to the Jan. 6 insurrection. And in March, Mr. Newsom used his “state of the state” speech to denounce “California critics out there who are promoting partisan political power grabs.”
Now, the very name of Mr. Newsom’s campaign — “Stop the Republican Recall” — aims to mobilize the state’s dominant party. His television ads and social media implore voters to stop the “boldfaced Republican power grab.”
In speeches, Mr. Newsom attacks the front-running challenger, the conservative talk radio host Larry Elder, as a Trump clone who would recklessly undo the state’s progress in curbing Covid-19 infections and “vandalize” California’s identity.