The top candidates running to replace Gov. Newsom in the California recall election
Scott Strazzante/San Francisco Chronicle/AP

The top candidates running to replace Gov. Newsom in the California recall election

A colorful cast of more than 40 candidates from all political persuasions are vying to replace Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in California’s recall election, but only a handful have managed to break through the pack.

The candidates have two weeks left to convince voters to boot Newsom out of office and choose them as a replacement.

These are Newsom’s most notable challengers:

John Cox

Republican John Cox may be most recognized for his campaign antics — barnstorming with a 1,000-pound live Kodiak bear named Tag, using an 8-foot ball of trash to symbolize the state’s homelessness problem and standing on top of a giant “Gavinopoly” board to attack high taxes and promote his plan to slash income taxes by 25%.

Cox, a San Diego businessman, has been successful in generating headlines, including when he was served with a subpoena while onstage during the August 17 debate.

Running as a political outsider, Cox has never held office before and lost badly to Newsom in 2018 when he challenged the Democratic governor, who won with more than 60% of the vote.

Cox opposes California’s Covid-19 vaccine mandates and mask requirements. During a debate early in August, he called Newsom’s handling of the pandemic “an absolute disaster” that “resulted in far more danger and far more problems.”

His plan to end California’s homelessness problem is to force the state’s unhoused population to receive mental health and addiction treatment before being provided housing.

Larry Elder

Newsom’s leading Republican replacement appears to be conservative talk show host and attorney Larry Elder, who would be California’s first Black governor if he wins the recall election.

Though a late entry to the race, Elder quickly rose to the top of the polls among the candidates vying to replace Newsom. Though a majority of voters would have to vote to recall Newsom on the ballot’s first question, if the recall succeeds Newsom’s successor would be selected by a plurality of California voters — meaning the winner may only have to get a fraction of the votes.

But Elder’s rise has come with heavy scrutiny — even calls from fellow GOP recall opponents to drop out of the race — because of his long history of disparaging remarks about women. He has also been accused of domestic violence and of brandishing a gun in 2015 by his then-fiancée and former employee Alexandra Datig. Elder has denied the allegations.

Like his rival Republican recall candidates, Elder would repeal Newsom’s Covid-19 mask and vaccine mandates for state workers, who must either be vaccinated or tested weekly for the virus. He opposes minimum wage, cashless bail and defunding the police. He has said he will declare a homeless emergency and suspend the California Environmental Quality Act, which he argues contributes to the state’s affordable housing crisis.

Elder has skipped the debates, saying the only person he wants to debate is Newsom.

Kevin Faulconer

Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has the experience of being elected to lead a Democratic-majority city as a Republican, which he has touted as an asset to governing the blue state of California.

He has proposed $1 billion in annual wildfire prevention funding, an exemption for military retirees from income taxes, a cut in the marginal tax rate to 0% for the first $50,000 earned by individuals, and the first $100,000 earned by families, who make less than $1 million a year.

During debates, Faulconer slammed Newsom for his approach to the Covid-19 pandemic, arguing that local school districts should make decisions about mask mandates in discussion with parents.

While several of the GOP candidates have focused on Newsom, Faulconer has also attacked Elder, including for his “unconscionable” comments about women.

Caitlyn Jenner

Caitlyn Jenner created a lot of buzz around her candidacy early in the race, given her celebrity status as a former Olympic athlete and reality television star.

But ever since, the Republican candidate has had to defend herself from criticism that she’s not a serious candidate for governor.

Her first press event — held 77 days after her campaign announcement — was brief and short on policy and details, according to reports; she has not demonstrated any deep grounding in policy; and she flew to Australia, reportedly to film “Celebrity Big Brother,” during a crucial phase in the campaign.

Like Elder, Jenner has declined to appear at debates, saying she will not debate fellow recall candidates unless Newsom is present.

In an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash, Jenner said she favors a path to citizenship for the 1.75 million undocumented immigrants in the state’s labor force. She also opposes transgender girls participating in girls’ sports and said she would consider changes to environmental regulations in California.

Kevin Kiley

First elected to the California State Assembly in 2016, Republican state lawmaker Kevin Kiley has made a name for himself as one of Newsom’s “chief antagonists” in the legislature.

Kiley has proposed ending California’s state of emergency for the Covid-19 pandemic. Asked about school mask mandates for children during one of the debates, Kiley argued that parents “know what is best for their kids” and should be making decisions themselves.

He has knocked Newsom’s spending of billions to address the homelessness issue, previously calling for a full audit of where funding was being allocated.

Kiley is one of the younger candidates in the race. He’s a former Los Angeles high school teacher and a former attorney and state prosecutor.

Kevin Paffrath

Paffrath is a Democratic candidate hoping to replace Newsom, despite Newsom and Democratic leaders urging their party’s voters to simply vote “no” on recalling the governor and leave the question of who should replace him unanswered.

A real estate broker who built a following of 1.7 million subscribers on his YouTube channel, Paffrath describes himself as a “JFK-style Democrat who can work with our Democratic legislature.”

Paffrath, who made his debate debut last week, has floated proposals like building an interstate pipeline to Mississippi to help solve California’s water crisis and creating “future schools” that give $2,000 a month to adults who are homeless, living in poverty or incarcerated for nonviolent offenses to attend.

He wants to get all homeless Californians off the streets in 60 days, by providing optional housing, by constructing or converting emergency facilities and by providing food along with mental health and medical support.

Paffrath has advocated for no lockdowns in California as the Delta variant spread.

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