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California’s “restart” recall has no buzz

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Now that the list of certified candidates to replace Gavin Newsom in a recall election is nearly final, we can confidently report that one thing is missing that was last in abundance the last time the Californians were asked if in 2003 they wanted to depose their governor:

To hum.

“Where’s the buzz? There’s not much fuss, ”said Larry Gerston, a professor emeritus of political science at San Jose State University, who wrote a book on the successful 2003 recall and plans to do another on the current one.

A small amount of money, Gerston said, could indicate a low turnout – and that could slow Governor Gavin Newsom’s previous golden path to surviving the September 14 recall. While polls show a majority of likely voters opposed to recall, they also show Republicans are twice as excited about the election as Newsom’s Democrats.

Many blame the blahs for the lack of sizzle in the list of candidates, which Foreign Secretary Shirley Weber was supposed to officially confirm on Wednesday.

In 2003, a list of 135 substitute candidates included a movie star with a near-universal name (Arnold Schwarzenegger); a well-known retired child television actor (Gary Coleman); an internationally known pornographer (Hustler magazine editor Larry Flynt); a Republican turned independent media commentator (Arianna Huffington); a former Los Angeles Olympics Tsar (independent Peter Ueberroth); and a parade of candidates promoting pets from legalizing marijuana to ferret ownership.

One candidate (Los Angeles based artist Trek Thunder Kelly) spent each day of the 2003 campaign wearing something blue. Another (Los Angeles actor Todd Richard Lewis) spent every day speaking with a false Australian accent. The Game Show Network held a debate for the D-list candidates.

Why shouldn’t they? The audience was there. Flynt told me in 2003, “That was a cheap buy-in for me: thirty-five dollars? It was worth it. It was a platform. “

The cost of the buy-in was about the same this time around: around $ 4,200. By collecting 7,000 signatures, the registration fee was waived. However, unlike in 2003, candidates had to file up-to-date tax returns for five years – and that may have been too expensive for some.

This time around, even former movie star Mary Carey, who listed her chest measurements in her ambiguous promotional materials for the 2003 campaign, chose not to run last week. There is not enough time, she told TMZ, to submit the necessary documents.

However, some largely unknown candidates like Napa’s Jacqueline McGowan take the plunge. She is a cannabis activist who wants to focus her campaign on legalization failing the promises made to California voters before they gave the green light in 2016 – with Newsom at the helm.

“We knew there would be a microphone (in the recall),” said Sean Donahoe, a senior policy advisor and expert on the cannabis industry who advises McGowan. “And we want to get our message out there.”

Nevertheless, the field is not only thinner with the candidates, but also with the characters.

“This is the restart – and many restarts are kind of disappointing to a lot of people,” said Joshua Spivak, senior fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College in New York and founder of Recall Wahlblog.

“Instead of the biggest action star in the world, you have a mediocre reality TV star,” Spivak said, referring to Republican Caitlyn Jenner. “The characters are not the same.”

Instead of sums, this time there is only zzzzz.

“Everyone was talking about the circus atmosphere (in 2003). This time all you get is a guy walking around the state with a bear,” said Mark Baldassare, president of the bipartisan Public Policy Institute of California, referring to Republican businessman John Cox.

The organization’s poll in May found that only 21% of likely voters followed the recall “very closely” and 41% followed it “fairly” closely.

That is much less enthusiastic than voters felt at a similar point in time in 2003. At the time, according to polls by the organization, nearly 9 out of 10 likely voters were closely following the race.

Sure, the circus lineup made California an international punch line in late summer and fall of 2003. But it also interested more people. More voters came for the recall in October 2003 than for the regular gubernatorial election campaign in 2002.

The hard-core partisans left and right will turn out no matter when the election takes place. But the excitement “piques everyone’s interest in the middle,” said Baldassare. “If the media doesn’t find the candidates and what they’re talking about newsworthy, you won’t be as interested.”

“It’s a serious problem,” he said. “The effect will be a depressed turnout.”

Although there are roughly twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans in California, Newsom needs them to keep his job. So his camp, which has a massive financial advantage over its GOP competitors, is trying to awaken its base supporters with a multi-platform media flash.

It shows TV commercials in expensive, high-profile time slots – including Tuesday’s NBA final game – and portrays the recall as the work of national Republicans who endorsed Donald Trump, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Arkansas governor , Mike Huckabee. It sends 2 million text messages a week to Democratic allies, a number that the campaign says will soon grow.

For July 24th, the campaign is planning a nationwide “day of action” with telephone banking and other election campaigns.

“Our biggest challenge will be to break the everyday (news cycle) – we have a pretty chaotic news cycle,” said Nathan Click, the anti-recall spokesman. “We will organize events very aggressively in democratic communities. Everyone is touched by it. “

Republican candidates have been roaming the state for weeks. Congregation member Kevin Kiley is planning a rally at Crissy Field in San Francisco on Saturday. On Wednesday he held a press conference on education and school choice.

The lack of a circus in this recall could allow for a more informed discussion on topics where Newsom could be questioned, such as homelessness, forest fires and crime, said Tim Rosales, a policy advisor who advises Kiley and a senior strategist on Cox’s loss was 2018 campaign against Newsom. He also worked on Schwarzenegger’s 2003 winning run.

“It’s less about personality in 2021 than it is in 2003, where you had the greatness of the Schwarzenegger personality,” Rosales said. “It’s more about who you trust to move the state forward – and whether voters are ready to switch.”

Joe Garofoli is the leading political writer on the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: jgarofoli@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @joegarofoli

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