The Trump factor: Newsom spotlights former president in California gubernatorial recall election

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He’s not on the ballot in the California recall election of Gov. Gavin Newsom, but former President Trump’s often front and center as the embattled Democratic governor fights to save his job steering the Golden State.

Newsom told a crowd at a rally this weekend in Culver City, California, that while Trump was defeated by now-President Biden in last November’s election, “we did not defeat Trumpism.”

The governor and his political team for months have framed the recall drive against him as an effort by the far right, Trump supporters, national Republicans and conservative media to oust him. So it’s no surprise that over the past month Newsom and his allies have been regularly blasting conservative talk radio host Larry Elder, who’s become the clear front runner according to public opinion polls among the nearly 50 replacement gubernatorial candidates on the ballot.

Newsom and his team have sent out press releases, fundraising emails, social media posts and indirectly targeted Elder in ads, highlighting his opposition to having any minimum wage, his downplaying of climate change and the nation’s issues with racial inequity, his controversial comments about women — and tying him to Trump.

Newsom emphasized last month that it’s “important to focus on Larry” because he argued that Elder’s “even more extreme than Trump in many respects.”

California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom campaigns against the California recall election at the Culver City High School in Culver City, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. Newsom enlisted progressive star Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., on Saturday to help him overcome a looming recall election that could remove him from office. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a former Democratic presidential candidate and rock star among progressives, took aim at Elder as she joined Newsom at a rally on Saturday, charging that Elder “dreams of being California’s own Donald Trump.” 

Elder welcomes the attacks, telling Fox News last month “I think he’s (Newsom) in serious trouble and he knows it.”

It’s not just Elder.

Newsom’s recall campaign team, formally known as Stop the Republican Recall, has targeted another of the leading GOP replacement candidates – former two-term San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer – by spotlighting a photo of him beside then-President Trump in the Oval Office.  

“Donald Trump with his erratic and inept leadership has allowed Newsom to paint any Republican who has ever said anything nice about the former President as two peas from the same pod,” veteran California-based Democratic consultant Mike Trujillo told Fox News.

Newsom’s strategy is simple: Trump, outside of his conservative base, is extremely unpopular in the very blue state of California. The then-president lost the Golden State and its whopping 55 electoral votes by over 5 million votes to Biden last November. And Newsom and his allies acknowledge that they need a strong turnout to counter Republican voters motivated to cast ballots in the Sept. 14 election in hopes of ousting the governor.

Trump, more than seven months removed from the White House, remains very popular with the GOP base and extremely influential with most Republican politicians, as he continues to play a king maker’s role in party politics and flirts with a third presidential run in 2024.

“The longer Donald Trump stays in political conversations the longer Democrats will effectively communicate that Republican candidates are mere ‘Baby Donald’s’ and that will always juice Democratic Party turnout,” Trujillo emphasized.

Voters are being asked two questions on the Newsom recall ballots. The first question is whether the governor should be removed from office. If more than 50% support removing Newsom, the second question offers a list of candidates running to replace the governor. If the governor is recalled, the candidate who wins the most votes on the second question – regardless of whether it’s a majority or just a small plurality – would succeed Newsom in steering California. 

Ballots were mailed to all of California’s roughly 22 million registered voters in the middle of last month. Voters have another eight days to mail their ballots, drop them in ballot boxes, or hand them in in-person.

Newsom’s strategy may be working.

Most public opinion polls conducted in July and August indicated that likely voters were divided on whether to recall Newsom. But the latest surveys, including one conducted Aug. 20-29 by the Public Policy Institute of California , suggest a majority of likely recall election voters support keeping the governor in office. And latest figures from the California Secretary of State’s office, released on Friday, indicate that nearly 23% of ballots have already been returned and accepted, with that figure at nearly 32% in the Democratic stronghold of San Francisco County.

Fox News’ Remy Numa contributed to this report

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