Another sign the California recall is about voter dissatisfaction with Newsom- not a referendum on the whole Democratic Party.

Gov. Gavin Newsom visits the site of a California wildfire on August 7, 2021. (photo: CALFIRE_Official)

That Gavin Newsom has reason to worry is no longer up for debate. Whether or not Newsom’s troubles are a referendum on the entire Democratic Party is another matter entirely.

Credible statewide polls have California Governor Gavin Newsom in a statistical coin flip on whether or not he will survive his upcoming recall.

After stepping up attacks against his main challenger, conservative radio host Larry Elder, Newsom’s allies have found- to their chagrin- that the intensity of these attacks might have actually helped Elder.

The LA Times, while undoubtably trying to help Gavin Newsom, may have done California’s current Governor little good with a recent article calling Larry Elder “The Black Face of White Supremacy”. Attacks like this one- and the head-scratching decision to refer in such terms to a man who would become California’s first African-American Governor if elected over his wealthy white opponent- appear to be backfiring badly.

At the very least, the article- and especially its clickbait headline- reminded Californians of the fact that Gavin Newsom’s Republican challenger happens to be a Black man from South Central LA.

Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican who himself was elected after the successful recall of his Democratic predecessor, has been warning lately that history may be about to repeat itself.

“It’s pretty much the same atmosphere today as it was then,” Schwarzenegger told People Magazine in April. “It’s very tough to raise kids and to have a family and to go through this challenge, working to make ends meet. And you feel like, ‘Wait a minute, but Sacramento doesn’t really do everything for us that they promised they’ll do. We are working hard — but they’re not. They’re failing us every day.’”

“People are dissatisfied,” the former Governor concluded, calling the recall effort, “the people’s way of kind of letting off some steam.”

“Anyone has a chance because I think the people are dissatisfied with what is going on here in California,” Schwarzenegger told host Jimmy Kimmel during an appearance on the latter’s talk show. “And I hope as many people as possible are jumping into the race and going for it because, remember, when I was in the recall election, there were 150 candidates there and it was a huge circus.”

While there are indeed a number of candidates on the ballot to replace Gavin Newsom, none of them is a prominent Democrat. While this may seem like a terrible oversight to Californians- not unlike the oversight which left Newsom’s political affiliation off his recall paperwork- it is, in fact, by design.

Gavin Newsom’s design.

If voters vote “no” on retaining Newsom as Governor, the next question asks voters to pull the lever for Newsom’s replacement. Rather than allow other prominent Democrats in California to run a backup campaign, Newsom demanded other Dems stand down and support his own campaign instead. As a result, if Gavin Newsom loses, California will very likely elect a Republican Governor.

“Number one, the reason he’s doing it is to simplify the messaging,” Guy Marzorati, who covers the political beat for KQED in California, told Slatethis week. “All along, he wanted to make sure there was no Democrat who ran on that replacement ballot who might tempt voters to say, ‘Usually I would vote to keep Newsom as governor, but I really like fill-in-the-blank progressive and I’m going to vote to recall Newsom and pick this other guy.’”

“Now, the question is: Will this just lead to more confusion from voters, or in the worst-case scenario, will it leave Democrats with no Plan B?” Marzorati wondered, and he is hardly alone. “If Newsom is recalled from office, there is no high-profile Democrat on the replacement ballot. All signs point to if Newsom gets removed from the governor’s office, it’ll be a Republican who takes over running the state. So in that sense, it might have been a risky strategy on the part of the Democrats to pursue this.”

And Gavin Newsom’s French Laundry list of problems keeps getting bigger by the day.

Dogged by his ill-fated dinner at the swanky French Laundry at the height of the pandemic, confronted by a $11 billion dollar fraud boondoggle still at work in California’s COVID-19 unemployment system, burdened by a worsening energy crisis; Newsom’s headaches hardly end there.

California is also in the grip of a particularly heinous wildfire season, an ever bourgeoning homelessness crisis, and a shocking rise in crime. Even former Senator Barbara Boxer was assaulted and robbed while out on a walk in her California neighborhood, reduced to screaming as her assailants fled into a waiting car: “How could you do this to a grandmother?”

Never-mind that COVID-19 and its attendant, if unpopular, closures are also plaguing the good governor of California.

The latest blow is news that a prominent California Democrat, Gloria Romero, is breaking ranks with her party to back Republican Larry Elder in a major and very public way.

Romero, who has always been a vocal advocate for school choice, is likely to be a powerful, persuasive force in the Elder campaign.

School choice is, given the widespread public school closures across the state over the past year, a more important issue to voting parents than ever.

Newsom is particularly vulnerable on this issue. While keeping public schools closed to in-person learning, Newsom sent his own children to private schools which remained open.

The lack of in-person learning options hurt impoverished and otherwise marginalized kids the hardest, and by extension, their families. Now, it is time for those families to decide if they will back Newsom, or his replacement.

The fact that the Newsom campaign is being so heavily funded by teachers unions in California isn’t likely to help Newsom win the votes of parents still smarting from policies they consider high-handed and elitist.

If private schools were safe enough to educate wealthy people’s children, they argue, public schools should have done the same for everyone else’s.

“I believe in school choice,” says Romero in Larry Elder’s new campaign commercial. “So does Larry Elder. But not Gavin Newsom.”

“He shut our public schools while he sent his kids to private school,” she said, before adding the coup de gras: “Yes, I’m a Democrat. But the recall of Newsom is not about political party. It’s about Newsom. Larry Elder for governor.”

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)