California Gov. Gavin Newsom, facing a growing recall campaign, got his first major GOP challenger on Tuesday: former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer.
Faulconer, a Donald Trump supporter who finished two terms as mayor last year, announced his plans to run in the 2022 election but will run earlier if the current effort to recall Newsom takes off and lands on the next ballot.
The ex-mayor kicked off his announcement with an appeal to voters who are upset with Newsom’s closures during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“No science behind it. It needs to be based on science,” Faulconer said, referring to outdoor dining and playground closures in recent months, which have since been lifted across the state.
“Like each of you, my family knows what it’s like to have our lives turned upside down,” he said. “My wife’s business was devastated by the pandemic.”
Faulconer spent much of his announcement expressing his outrage that California’s public schools were still closed to in-person learning while private ones have been allowed to open, blaming Newsom for the decision. But the issue is more complicated than that. Public school closures have been largely driven by teachers unions, which don’t want their members to return until everyone has been vaccinated. Newsom has said that benchmark might not be realistic.
Newsom’s chief strategist, Dan Newman, dismissed Faulconer as an opportunist.
“Trying to exploit a global pandemic to advance a political career exposes his craven ambition, as does making the same ‘I’m running!’ announcement at the start of each month, waiting in vain for people to pay attention,” he said, referring to hints Faulconer has made in recent months about his plans to run.
“While Faulconer and other Trump supporters like John Cox and Michael Cernovich compete in the Republican primary,” Newman said of others planning to run against Newsom, “we’ll stay focused on distributing the vaccine and providing relief and recovery to families and small businesses harmed by the virus.”
Faulconer has painted himself as a centrist, saying Tuesday that someone outside the Democratic Party needed to step up. “Our problem isn’t with our people,” he said. “Our problem is with our government, with one-party rule that is out of touch with reality.”
Faulconer has left-leaning viewpoints on many key issues in the state. He supports marriage equality, believes in human-caused climate change and supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. But his comments on those issues may ring empty to voters when they find out he voted for Trump in November, saying that he thought Trump “was going to be the best for the economy.”
Faulconer and other challengers with their eyes set on a recall election have the benefit of a California electorate that’s increasingly critical of Newsom. He’s now contending with voters who are angry about business shutdowns, voters who are angry about the recent reopenings amid high case counts and voters from both of those groups who are angry about the stalled COVID-19 vaccine rollout. His legacy also continues to be haunted by an ill-fated trip he took to the French Laundry restaurant late last year when coronavirus cases were increasing.
There’s been a “big shift in public sentiment from last year when large majorities approved of the job Newsom was doing,” a University of California, Berkeley, poll revealed Tuesday. Currently, the poll found, “fewer than half of voters initially say they would vote to endorse Newsom if a recall election is held later this year.”
The campaign to recall Newsom says it has collected 1.3 million signatures so far. It has until mid-March to hit 1.5 million, the required threshold to qualify the proposal for the ballot.
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