Who wants to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom in the recall election?

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Seema Mehta
·6 min read
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A mosaic of potential candidates that might run if the effort to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom succeeds. They are clockwise from top left; former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer; businessman John Cox; former Rep. Doug Ose; retired adult movie actress Mary Carey; billboard model Angelyne; and Caitlyn Jenner.
Candidates who are running to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom in the recall election or considering it include, clockwise from top left; former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, businessman John Cox, former Rep. Doug Ose, retired adult movie actress Mary Carey, billboard model Angelyne and Caitlyn Jenner. (Los Angeles Times; San Deigo Union-Tribune; Associated Press; Getty Images)

As the effort to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom heads to the ballot, a key question is whom would voters pick to replace him. Here’s a look at how that part of the election would play out.

If Newsom is successfully recalled, what is the process to replace him?

Once the recall election is set, voters will be asked two questions on the ballot. The first is whether they want to get rid of Newsom. The second is if Newsom is recalled, regardless of how they voted on the first question, who do they want to replace him?

If more than 50% of voters support ousting Newsom, then the top vote-getter in the second question automatically becomes governor, regardless of how many votes that person gets.

What are the qualifications to run?

Candidates have until 59 days before the election to file papers to run. The date of the election is not yet certain but is expected to occur in late fall, possibly November.

Candidates must be American citizens who are registered to vote, or qualified to vote, at the time they obtain nomination papers. They cannot have been convicted of offering, giving or taking a bribe, embezzling public money, perjury or related crimes. They cannot run if they have served two terms as governor since Nov. 6, 1990 (so, no, Jerry Brown cannot run again). They must also pay a $3,916.12 filing fee or turn in at least 7,000 valid signatures, according to the secretary of state’s office.

The target of the recall — Newsom — is barred from appearing on the replacement section of the ballot.

Who is running?

So far, four prominent Republicans have announced that they are campaigning to replace Newsom:

  • Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. The 54-year-old served as a San Diego City Council member from 2006 to 2014, and as mayor from 2014 to 2020. The fiscal conservative and social liberal frequently touted his ability to get elected in a Democratic city; San Diego was the largest city with a Republican mayor during his tenure. He is tight with mainstream Republicans such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, which could potentially give him access to a trove of wealthy GOP donors.

  • Businessman John Cox. The multimillionaire, 65, made his fortune in real estate, investments and property management. He used his wealth to fund several unsuccessful runs for office — Congress in 2000, Senate in 2002, Cook County (Ill.) Recorder of Deeds in 2004, U.S. president in 2008 and governor of California in 2018. In that last contest, he spent $5.7 million of his own money on the race, and lost by a historic margin to Newsom.

    The Rancho Santa Fe resident has also unsuccessfully pushed quixotic ballot measures such as vastly expanding the size of the Legislature and requiring lawmakers to wear the logos of their top 10 donors on the floor of the Capitol, as NASCAR drivers display the logos of their sponsors on their cars during races.

  • Caitlyn Jenner. The Olympic decathlete turned reality TV star announced Friday that she is running, a move that invites immediate comparisons to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s successful run during the 2003 recall that ousted Gov. Gray Davis, though the action star had greater involvement in California policy before running for governor than the reality star does. Jenner, a transgender woman and lifelong Republican, has described herself as an economic conservative and social liberal. The 71-year-old flirted with running against Sen. Dianne Feinstein in 2018 but did not.

  • Former Rep. Doug Ose. The multimillionaire made his fortune in real estate and represented a suburban Sacramento district in Congress from 1999 to 2005. When Ose was in the House, he supported efforts to make President George W. Bush’s tax cuts permanent and to stop automatic pay raises for members of Congress. He pledged to serve three terms, but then unsuccessfully ran for Congress again in 2008 and 2014. Ose also briefly ran for governor in 2018 but dropped out after seeing little interest from GOP donors or in the polls. The 65-year-old lives in Sacramento.

Other lesser-knowns are also emerging, such as:

  • Sam Gallucci. The 60-year-old Republican started his career in technology, ultimately becoming the executive vice president and general manager of PeopleSoft. The company was acquired for $10.3 billion by Oracle in 2004. Gallucci then turned his attention to nonprofit and spiritual work, becoming the senior pastor of Embrace! Church in Oxnard. He also founded efforts to help at-risk women and children and migrant workers.

  • Ric Grenell. Among the most prominent gay men in the Republican Party, Grenell served as President Trump’s acting director of national intelligence in 2020 and ambassador to Germany from 2018 to 2020. Now 54, Grenell previously served in the George W. Bush administration, and briefly worked on 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign. It was unclear whether he was ousted from the last role over derogatory social media posts or evangelical unhappiness with an openly gay man serving in a prominent role.

And then there are the publicity-seeking repeats from the 2003 recall:

  • Billboard model Angelyne and retired adult movie actress Mary Carey have both announced that they are running. Expect more — the 2003 recall campaign attracted more than 130 candidates, including politicians, publishers and pornographers.

Are there any prominent Democrats running?

Not yet. Newsom’s allies want to present a united Democratic front, which allows them to paint the recall as a GOP power grab to accomplish through a special election what they can’t through a regular campaign. That also avoids a repeat of the 2003 recall, when Davis allies believe Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante’s decision to run as an insurance option in case the recall was successful cost the governor Democratic votes.

Some strategists argue that it is imperative to have a prominent Democrat on the ballot on the chance Newsom is recalled. Some potential candidates are reportedly eyeing the race, notably former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and billionaire hedge fund founder turned clean energy warrior Tom Steyer. A decision to run could make them Democratic pariahs if they are unsuccessful — or their party’s savior if Newsom is recalled.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.