Newsom’s recall ballot mishap: It embarrassing but much ado about nothing, says Democratic strategist

By Tara Atrian

Governor Gavin Newsom in May 2020. “The fact is that even though you hear the recall proponents yapping and yapping about what a terrible job he’s [Newsom] done, that is not what most voters think,” says veteran Democratic consultant Garry South. Photo by Matt Gush/Shutterstock.

When you see Governor Gavin Newsom’s name on the recall ballot this September 14, you won’t see the word Democrat alongside it. 

A Superior Court judge ruled the governor can’t identify himself as a member of the state’s leading political party because his campaign missed the deadline to designate his affiliation early last year.  

The campaign implies this was a simple mistake — but could it significantly affect the election’s outcome?  “It’s much ado about nothing,” says longtime Democratic strategist and gubernatorial candidate advisor Garry South

Newsom’s attorney admitted  he forgot to request the party designation in February 2020. Newsom even signed state law that mandates people in offices must request their party preference be put on the ballot. They only have a seven-day window to do so after a recall notice is filed. 

“Look, it's an embarrassing screw-up for the governor's legal team to have made this silly mistake,” says South. Despite that, he still thinks it won’t impact the recall efforts.

“If you're a registered California voter and you plan to vote in the recall ... you don't know Newsom is a Democrat, then you've either been living on another planet or taking generous advantage of our marijuana laws,” South says. 

He also explains that a recall ballot is not structured like a regular ballot. The first line asks the question of whether the governor should be recalled or not. “All these would-be replacement candidates who keep claiming they’re ‘running against Newsom’ ... aren't. They're all on the second line running against each other,” says South. 

He says that despite Newsom’s favorability plunging in the polls during the pandemic, they’re still relatively high. 

South went through the 2003 recall with former Governor Gray Davis. “In August of 2003, two months before that recall ... Governor Davis had a 22% job approval rating. … That's down in Nixon territory before he resigned. ... Newsom's regular job approval ratings and public polling are in the 50s. He's nowhere close to where Davis was in the 2003 recall.”

And he still is confident that Newsom will win, despite big name Republicans entering the race: radio host Larry Elder, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, and up-and-coming GOP Assemblyman Kevin Kiley. “None of them are well-known to the general public, and none of them even come close to having the status that Arnold Schwarzenegger did,” says South. He explains that in the 2003 recall, there were 135 candidates running in the race, and the actor got nearly half the votes. 

“No one in this race, not Faulconer, not Caitlyn Jenner, not John Cox, not Larry Elder, Kiley —who the hell is Kiley — [he is] the Matt Gaetz of California. None of these people have any standing with the voters,” says South. 

The filing deadline for recall candidates is Friday, July 16. 



Larry Perel


Tara Atrian