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Politics & Policy

Gavin Newsom Recall: What to Know About the Sept. 14 Special Election

Written by Sophie BearmanPublished Sep. 10, 2021 • 1:58pm

California Governor Gavin Newsom is facing a Sept. 14 special election that could remove him from office.

It’s only the second gubernatorial recall in California history to qualify for the ballot. The first one, in 2003, ejected Democrat Grey Davis in favor of Republican Arnold Schwarzenneger.

Newsom was elected in 2018 with nearly 62% of the vote—an unprecedented margin of victory. But now the progressive governor and former San Francisco mayor faces a stiff challenge.

How did we get here?

The Republican-led recall effort was largely fueled by frustration over pandemic lockdowns and shuttered schools.

Newsom’s shifting health rules tested some Californians’ patience and the governor’s mask-free appearance at The French Laundry, a gourmet eatery, during lockdown infuriated even many of his supporters. 

Meanwhile, due to the pandemic, the recall campaign gained several additional months to gather the 1.5 million signatures needed to qualify for the ballot. 

How does the election work?

There are two questions on the recall ballot. The first asks whether Newsom should be removed as governor. The second asks which of the recall candidates voters would pick to replace him.

If more than 50% of voters in the special election opt to remove Newsom, the governor will be replaced by the leading vote-getter among 46 possible successor candidates.

Who is running against Newsom?

There are dozens of successor candidates, including John Cox, known for his campaign events featuring a live Kodiak bear, TV personality and former Olympic gold medalist Caitlyn Jenner, Kevin Faulconer, the Mayor of San Diego from 2014 to 2020 and California State Assemblymember Kevin Kiley.

Republican talk show host Larry Elder, a supporter of former President Donald Trump, leads the field of possible replacements, polls show.

What is the governor saying?

Newsom has cast the election as a referendum on Trump and Republican politics in general.

He has far outspent his rivals and recruited top national Democrats, including President Biden, to campaign on his behalf.

At a recent appearance in the Bay Area, Newsom implored voters to turn in their ballots and reject the recall.

"I feel the way I did a week ago, a month ago, six months ago. Resolved, committed, focused, determined to defeat this Republican recall," he said.

It’s estimated that the recall election will cost the state $276 million and the next regular gubernatorial election is in 2022.

Sophie Bearman can be reached at

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