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California Gov. Newsom Pledges To Fight Recall Effort By Republicans

NOEL KING, HOST:

There is a campaign in California to recall Governor Gavin Newsom, and today is the deadline for organizers to get signatures. If they get enough - and it appears they will - voters could decide in November whether Newsom stays in office. Here's Scott Shafer from KQED in San Francisco.

SCOTT SHAFER, BYLINE: On a recent weekend in the town of Vacaville, just south of Sacramento, a couple dozen volunteers gathered with banners reading, recall Gavin Newsom. Some were waving American flags as passing cars honked in support.

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UNIDENTIFIED VOLUNTEER: Print your name, sign and then put your full address as how you're registered to vote.

SHAFER: This campaign picked up steam late last year after Newsom was spotted, without wearing a mask, having dinner at a swanky Napa Valley restaurant after telling Californians to stay home. It was enough to get David Verza, a 32-year-old Republican, to sign the petition.

DAVID VERZA: My friend group, family group, we're having a hard time here, and it just feels like Newsom isn't helping us out at all. It feels like he doesn't care, you know? When we see him eat in restaurants and doing stuff like that, it really shows where his loyalties lie, you know?

SHAFER: Jessica Millan Patterson is chair of the California Republican Party. She says the recall didn't start out as a purely Republican effort, but they're all in now.

JESSICA MILLAN PATTERSON: We saw that there was a movement there, and we joined onto it because it's the right thing to do for Californians.

SHAFER: And for the Republican Party. Patterson says the recall is a chance to showcase the GOP as an alternative to Democrats' policies many voters don't like, starting with the pandemic shutdown. It's also a way to engage volunteers in what was supposed to be a relatively quiet year as far as politics goes.

PATTERSON: We've done about a million phone calls chasing the signature petitions from individuals who should have received it and getting those back in. So keeping the volunteers engaged in a, quote-unquote, "off year" is phenomenal.

SHAFER: The Republican National Committee has kicked in $250,000 toward the recall effort, but Randy Economy, official spokesman for the recall campaign - a former Democrat turned independent turned Republican - insists the recall is nonpartisan.

RANDY ECONOMY: I know that the Republican Party structure has decided to get involved in the campaign. Of course they are. We couldn't stop them from doing that. Everybody has the right to get involved. But our campaign is not based upon the wishes of the Republican Party or its Republican Party operatives.

ANNE DUNSMORE: They're certainly using it as an organizing tool.

SHAFER: Political operative Anne Dunsmore is a consultant for the recall campaign. She says if nothing else, the effort to get rid of Newsom puts Democrats on the defensive.

DUNSMORE: It's certainly catching fire. There's certainly a benefit to it. And you can see it because all the county parties are starting to surf that wave.

SHAFER: Republican consultant Rob Stutzman, who worked on the 2003 recall of Governor Gray Davis, says this gives Republicans a chance to build on their success in November when they picked up several House seats in California while Donald Trump got crushed by Joe Biden.

ROB STUTZMAN: And as long as Trump-related candidates stay out of it, they're not talking about Donald Trump. So it's a very good opportunity for the party to grow beyond its current base.

SHAFER: For his part, Governor Newsom is painting an optimistic picture about California's future while acknowledging some of his shortcomings.

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GAVIN NEWSOM: We've made mistakes. I have made mistakes. But we own them. We learn from them, and we never stop trying.

SHAFER: Newsom is hoping that if the recall election happens later this year, the pandemic will be in the rearview mirror by then and that voters will be in no mood to replace him with a Republican. For NPR News, I'm Scott Shafer in San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF KAMASI WASHINGTON'S "OOH CHILD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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