With State of the State, Gov. Newsom lays groundwork for reelection as recall mounts amid pandemic

Written by Amy Ta, produced by Brian Hardzinski

Governor Gavin Newsom mainly focused on the coronavirus pandemic during his annual State of the State address on Tuesday night, which he delivered at a nearly empty Dodger Stadium, home of last season’s World Series champions.

“Under the lights of this stadium, even as we grieve, let’s allow ourselves to dream of brighter days ahead. Because we won’t be defined by this moment. We’ll be defined by what we do because of it. After all, we are California. … We led in gay rights, gun rights, and criminal justice reform. And now, we lead on combating COVID. From the earliest days of this pandemic, California trusted in science and data,” he said.

Newsom called the stadium “the centerpiece of America’s mass vaccination campaign.”

And in what sounded like a campaign kickoff, he briefly discussed the recall effort against him: “We’re not going to change course just because of a few nay-sayers and dooms-dayers. So to the California critics out there who are promoting partisan power grabs with outdated prejudices and rejecting everything that makes California great, we say this: We will not be distracted from getting shots in arms and our economy booming again. This is a fight for California’s future.”

Tuesday night was the first time in decades that the speech happened outside Sacramento and in Southern California.

Carla Marinucci, Politico reporter covering California politics, says Newsom was going for something different with the location. “The audience was not legislators in Sacramento in the Capitol, but voters out there. … He said that this is a fight for California's future. It's also a fight for his political future. This was a pivotal moment for Gavin Newsom as he faces down what looks increasingly to be a recall election this year. He had to get the message out to them, and so did it at Dodger Stadium, one of the busiest mass vaccination sites in the nation. And those 55,000 empty seats behind him representing the California lives have been lost to COVID-19 — that was a sobering visual.”

Hours before the address, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, the Republican aiming to become California’s next governor, released what his team called a “prebuttal” to Newsom’s State of the State.

“For months, we gave him the benefit of the doubt. But time and time again, he has completely failed on delivering the basics. I believe there should be a high bar for a recall. Gavin Newsom has cleared it several times over,” said Faulconer.

According to Marinucci, the people who want to recall Newsom argue that he failed in the pandemic. “Failed to open businesses, failed to open schools, failed to deliver vaccines on time. That was the exact argument that Newsom went to last night … talking about all of the ways in which he has handled these very issues.”

She explains that California Republicans know they can’t beat Newsom in a regular election (his reelection is next year), and this is their shot at succeeding.

“It's going to be not just Kevin Faulconer, but maybe a number of Republicans that are up against him. And they are slamming him particularly on the economic issues in California, how many businesses have closed or remained closed. How many schools still remain unopened.”

She says Newsom is now on a campaign as Faulconer is lambasting him, and wealthy businessman John Cox is in the running too. Meanwhile, Democrats are supporting him, even those who used to be his critics and those on the far left.

The people mounting the recall say they have some 2 million signatures — enough to get this on the ballot. The signatures need to be verified, but all this might not happen until the fall, and by then, schools will likely be reopened and the economy likely healthier.

Marinucci says the recall is all about timing and running out the clock. On March 17 at 5 p.m., 1.5 million valid voter signatures must be submitted, and by the end of April, Californians should know whether a recall is going to happen.

“Many experts say … considering the number of dates and hoops that have to be gone through, including looking at the cost of the recall and having the legislature approved, etc., this election could not come before the voters maybe until October or November of this year. And a lot can change by then.”

She says right now, Newsom is laying the groundwork for what's ahead, and that's what Californians saw in his State of the State address.