Vice President Harris, former President Obama join Newsom's fight against recall effort

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Gov. Gavin Newsom received a boost from a familiar face Wednesday when his longtime political ally Vice President Kamala Harris returned to the Bay Area to campaign for him against the GOP-led recall.

"They wouldn't be trying to recall him but for the fact that he has always stood for reproductive rights," Harris said at a rally in San Leandro. "They wouldn't be trying to recall him except they know he stands for our Dreamers and our farmworkers."

"This is why they are putting in so many resources and time to take out Gavin Newsom."

Hours after the rally with Harris, Newsom's campaign released a 30-second ad featuring former President Obama, who told voters that Republicans are trying to recall the governor "and overturn commonsense COVID safety measures for healthcare workers and school staff. "

"Your vote could be the difference between protecting our kids and putting them at risk, helping California recover or taking us backward," Obama says in the ad.

Harris and Obama are the latest in a series of high-profile national politicians — after Democrats U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont — to join Newsom in a full court press against Larry Elder, anti-vaccination activists and Trump supporters on the campaign trail and in television ads.

In the final days before the Sept. 14 election, Newsom's campaign is seeking to capitalize on help from national figures to turn out voters and show unity from all corners of the Democratic Party as the governor fights for his political survival.

"There are very few better messengers than a Bay Area native, who has gone on to become vice president of the United States, campaigning in her home turf on his behalf," said Brian Brokaw, a senior advisor to Newsom and a former political advisor to Harris.

VP Kamala Harris, Gov. Gavin Newsroom and First Lady Jennifer Seibel-Newsom wave at a rally against the recall election
Vice President Kamala Harris, Gov. Gavin Newsroom and First Lady Jennifer Seibel-Newsom acknowledge the crowd at an anti-recall rally in San Leandro. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Brokaw described Harris and Newsom as political siblings, whose careers overlapped in the bubble of San Francisco politics and followed parallel paths to power for the next 20 years.

Appointed to public posts by former Mayor of San Francisco and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown in the mid-'90s, Harris was the first woman to be elected San Francisco's district attorney on the same 2003 ballot that made Newsom the city's youngest mayor.

They leapt to statewide office together in 2011 when she became attorney general and he took on the role of lieutenant governor. Four years later, she announced her plan to run for former Sen. Barbara Boxer's seat, and Newsom followed the next month with an early declaration of his intent to run for governor three years before the 2018 election.

Harris jumped to the national stage before Newsom, with a run for president in 2020 that ended with her positioned as Biden's second in command. Her rise in Washington has raised questions about what it means for Newsom's path beyond the governor's office.

On Wednesday, she stood on a stage in San Leandro and offered a full-throated defense of her longtime friend.

Governor Gavin Newsom speaks at a rally
Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks ahead of Vice President Kamala Harris at a rally in San Leandro against the recall election. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

"He has the courage, and he's had it his entire career, to believe in and know what is possible," Harris said. "An ability to see what can be, unburdened by what has been."

Harris originally intended to campaign for Newsom nearly two weeks ago and postponed the trip after the deadly attack in Afghanistan that killed U.S. service members.

Sean Clegg, a senior political adviser to Newsom, said in the final days before the election that the campaign aims to "make sure that every living breathing Californian knows that this recall is happening" and understands the stakes through campaign rallies and a robust voter outreach plan that includes television ads, phone calls and door-to-door connections.

Harris’ visit and President Biden’s anticipated trip to rally for Newsom in California next week will put that message "on steroids," Clegg said.

“A standalone appearance isn’t going to be decisive in this whole thing, but it does send the message that Democrats are unified from top to bottom unlike in 2003,” said Garry South, a senior political advisor to former Gov. Gray Davis.

Kamala Harris speaks to the crowd. Behind her is a huge California flag and people holding up anti-recall placards.
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to the crowd at Wednesday's anti-recall rally in San Leandro. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Some Democrats had become disillusioned with Davis, South said, and Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante’s candidacy helped fuel a split within the party nearly two decades ago.

John Kerry and other Democratic presidential hopefuls stumped for Davis. But then-President George W. Bush and the Republican National Committee smartly kept clear of the race and made it difficult for Davis to frame the recall as a GOP power grab, South said.

This time around, Newsom and his political advisors have successfully sold the narrative that the recall election is motivated by Trump Republicans and radical right wing groups with the help of the national GOP.

Though Trump has stayed out of the campaign, the Republican National Committee donated to the pro-recall cause. Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Guiliani and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare, Calif.) have endorsed the recall or the backup candidates, giving the governor an opportunity to name check the controversial California figures as he rallies voters against the recall.

And the arrival of conservative talk radio host Larry Elder has given Newsom a clear contrast for Democrats and a reason to vote no.

In San Leandro, Newsom said Elder believes food stamps are a giveaway, wants to eliminate the corporate tax and end the minimum wage and would reverse the state's progress on COVID-19.

"We're all on the ballot," Newsom said. "Our principles, our values are on the ballot."

Meanwhile, Elder marked his ballot in favor of the recall on Tuesday morning in a Los Angeles voting center that was near-empty, save for the long line of press cameras filming as he worked the machine. He was joined by his girlfriend Nina Perry.

“It’s a beautiful day to recall a governor,” Elder said, standing on a busy stretch of Melrose Avenue outside the voting center.

In a sign that Newsom's scare tactics and campaign blitz are working, a recent poll found that 58% of likely California voters oppose recalling Newsom, compared with 39% who support removing the governor. Early mail ballot returns show that Democrats account for more than half of the 6.6 million ballots turned in so far and Republicans represent less than a quarter.

“He doesn't have a Schwarzenegger,” said South, noting that the circumstance around the recall appear rosier for Newsom than they were for Davis. “He doesn't have a Cruz Bustamante. He has a friendly White House, a president and vice president, who have come out against the recall. If we call 2003 a perfect storm, this is the reverse of that — a harmonic convergence of the planets.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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