SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The recall debate stage will include a Democrat for the first time Wednesday, as YouTube creator Kevin Paffrath joins three Republicans rivals in making the case they should be California’s next governor if voters boot Gov. Gavin Newsom from office.
Paffrath will join Republicans John Cox, Kevin Kiley and Kevin Faulconer in the televised debate. Like in past debates, talk show host Larry Elder, who is widely considered the frontrunner in the replacement race, declined to appear. Newsom also declined an invitation.
The presence of a Democrat will add a new element to what’s become a familiar formula in past debates, with all three Republicans sharing similar positions on most topics, including their opposition to coronavirus mask and vaccine mandates. Paffrath’s appearance on stage may complicate Newsom’s advice to Democrats to vote no on the recall and forgo the chance to choose a replacement candidate.
The televised debate hosted by KCRA and the San Francisco Chronicle begins at 7 p.m.
More than 22 million California voters have received ballots in the mail with two questions: Should Newsom be recalled and, if so, who should replace him? Voters have 46 replacement candidates to choose from, though former Congressman Doug Ose left the race after ballots were printed and has endorsed Kiley. More than 1.5 million people have already returned their ballots, according to ballot tracking data from Political Data Inc.
The replacement candidate with the most votes will become governor if a majority of voters want to boot Newsom. The last day to vote is Sept. 14.
All four candidates on stage are in need of a breakout moment that could help boost their name recognition and support among voters in the race’s final weeks. Newsom and Democrats have dedicated most of their attention to Elder, warning he would be a dangerous leader for California. That, and his long career as a conservative commentator on television and radio, has elevated him to front-runner status among the replacement options.
Faulconer, the former San Diego mayor, has called for Elder to drop out of the race, pointing to his past comments about women in the workplace and allegations from an ex-fiancée that he displayed a gun in front of her. Elder denied brandishing a gun at anyone. The criticism hasn’t seemed to notably dampen Elder’s standing in the race.
Earlier Wednesday, a group called Crime Victims United endorsed Faulconer during a campaign stop in Oakland. He and other Republicans have attempted to make crime, and policies loosening penalties for certain offenses, a central issue in the race.
Meanwhile, Kiley, a state assemblyman, stood with a family outside their home lost in a wildfire and discussed his own plan to mitigate blazes. He and other Republicans have proposed a greater focus on forest management, and Kiley also wants to prohibit political contributions from electrical utilities like Pacific Gas & Electric, which has been held responsible for sparking some of California’s worst wildfires.
Cox, a businessman who lost badly to Newsom in 2018, has so far spent the week focused on education and rolled out a plan Tuesday that proposes creating education savings accounts with $14,000 that families can use to attend any school they want. All three of the Republican candidates support charter schools.
Though he’s a Democrat, Paffrath has joined his Republican rivals in blasting Newsom’s handling of the state. He’s pledged to build 80 new homeless shelters during his first two months in office and banning people from sleeping on streets. Faulconer, too, wants to stand up a network of homeless shelters, which would give the state more power to clear encampments.