Governor Gavin Newsom addresses a press conference held at the launch of mass COVID-19 vaccination site at Dodger Stadium on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021 in Los Angeles (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Ads in Newsom recall hit the air this week as California signature deadline nears

Lara Korte

The Sacramento Bee

The campaign to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom hasn’t yet qualified for the ballot, but one of his opponents is already launching ads.

Republican businessman John Cox, who ran for and lost the governorship to Newsom in 2018, launched a statewide ad campaign on Monday taking aim at both Newsom and Republican candidate Kevin Faulconer.

The 30-second ad, titled “Gavin Faulconer” depicts both the governor and former San Diego Mayor Faulconer as corrupt politicians.

It shows Newsom dining at the French Laundry in Napa County in November. The meal, which he shared with a dozen people, including lobbyists, angered Californians who felt the governor was defying his own social distancing policies during the pandemic.

Faulconer in Cox’s ad is criticized for the city’s purchase of an asbestos-riddled high rise last year.

“Had enough of this?” Cox asks viewers. “I’m a businessman, not a politician. Let’s lower housing costs and get people back to work.”

“It’s time for a fresh start,” it says.

The $1 million advertising blitz begins airing on television stations across the state on Monday, with radio ads to begin in targeted markets later this week.

“Gavin Newsom must go — between his lobbyist dinner at the French Laundry and his complete failure with vaccine distribution and school and business closures, Californians deserve better,” Cox said in a statement. “Candidate Kevin Faulconer would be no better — a career politician mired in scandal and serving only his big donors and leaving San Diego residents with the bill.”

Newsom’s opponents are banking on an election sometime soon even though the effort to recall the Democratic governor is still about five weeks and tens of thousands of signatures away from qualifying.

Both Cox and Faulconer are raising money through 2022 campaign committees. Cox’s recent efforts seem to be largely self-funded. His campaign reported having about $70,000 cash on hand at the end of 2020. State campaign records show he donated $1 million to his own campaign in early January.

Cox has spent decades trying to break into politics. He launched a number of unsuccessful political campaigns in Illinois, including one for president, before moving to California in 2011.

Cox earned just over 38% of the vote in 2018, losing to Newsom’s 62%.

“John Cox needs a fresh start after burning piles of cash and repeatedly losing in landslide elections,” Faulconer campaign manager Stephen Puetz said. “Mayor Faulconer is a proven leader, taking on promise breakers and bringing reforms to clean up government. He’s done it in San Diego and that’s what he’ll do in Sacramento.”

Recall organizers say they’ve gathered more than 1.4 million of the 1.5 million signatures needed to trigger an election. Signatures need to be validated by county election officials before they are counted, and recall organizers say they hope to collect at least 1.8 million to be safe. The deadline for turning in signatures in March 17.

Counties will have until April 29 to verify the signatures, after which the Secretary of State’s Office has 10 days to determine if there are enough to qualify the recall for the ballot.

If all goes to plan, campaign organizers say they hope to have a recall election in July or August.

Newsom and California Democrats have been quietly countering the recall effort. The California Democratic Party in January faced backlash for trying to liken the process to a “California coup” and the governor has repeatedly dismissed questions about the recall, saying he is focused on vaccine distribution and the pandemic.

A survey of registered voters conducted by the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies last month showed 46% of respondents approve of Newsom’s performance as governor, while 48% disapprove. Even if the recall qualifies for the ballot, it’s not clear if Californians are ready to kick Newsom out of office. The Berkeley IGS poll found only 36% of voters said they would remove him, similar to the portion of the electorate that voted for Cox in 2018.

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