Here's who's aiming to succeed Gavin Newsom in California's gubernatorial recall election

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With less than two weeks to go until the deadline for California voters hand in their ballots in the state’s gubernatorial recall election, embattled Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom is fighting to keep his job.

The recall push, launched in June of last year, was fueled by the state’s COVID restrictions on businesses and houses of worship, school shutdowns and even opposition to the state’s high taxes.

State election officials began mailing ballots to California’s 22 million registered voters in the middle of last month, and ballots need to be returned in person or postmarked by Sept. 14.

Voters are being asked two questions on the recall ballot. The first question is whether the governor should be removed from office. If more than 50% support removing Newsom, the second question offers a list of candidates running to replace the governor. If the governor is recalled, the candidate who wins the most votes on the second question – regardless of whether it’s a majority or just a small plurality – would succeed Newsom in steering California. 

Here’s a look at the leading contenders among the 46 gubernatorial replacement candidates on the ballot.

LARRY ELDER

The conservative radio talk show host was one of the last contenders to jump into the race, announcing his candidacy in the middle of July. But most of the latest public opinion polls suggest Elder is the leader among the replacement candidates.

Elder would make history if elected as California’s first Black governor.

The governor and his political team for months have framed the recall drive against him as an effort by the far right, Trump supporters, national Republicans and conservative media to oust him. So it’s no surprise they’ve been blasting Elder in recent weeks, sending out press releases, fundraising emails, social media posts and indirectly targeting him in ads, highlighting Elder’s opposition to having any minimum wage and his downplaying of climate change and the nation’s issues with racial inequity.

But Elder has also come under attack this month from some of his Republican rivals for past controversial comments about women and allegations from his ex-fiancée. Former two-term San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Caitlyn Jenner, the 1976 Olympic gold-medal-winning decathlete turned transgender rights activist and nationally known TV personality, recently called on Elder to drop out of the race.

JOHN COX

The San Diego businessman and 2018 GOP gubernatorial nominee grabbed headlines in May as he kicked off a campaign swing and media blitz that included him stumping with a 1,000-pound Kodiak bear.

Three years ago, the first-time candidate was trounced by Newsom by roughly 24 points in the race to succeed outgoing four-term Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.

Cox, who’s called Newsom’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic an “absolute disaster,” joins most of the major GOP replacement contenders in saying they would roll back the governor’s statewide vaccine mandates for those working for the state, in health care and at schools. Cox, in a recent debate, spotlighted Florida’s more relaxed restrictions as a guide for what he would do as California governor.

KEVIN FAULCONER

The former Republican mayor of San Diego has spotlighted his ability to win election twice in a city where Democrats are in the majority. 

Faulconer has also heavily criticized Newsom’s handling of the COVID crisis and has argued that local school districts and parents should have a much bigger say about implementing mask mandates. He’s also highlighted a push for $1 billion annually to fight wildfires as a key part of his campaign for governor.

CAITLYN JENNER

The 1976 Olympic gold-medal-winning decathlete turned transgender rights activist and nationally known TV personality grabbed plenty of attention when she launched her campaign in April.

But Jenner appeared to be playing defense this summer, defending her July trip to Australia – to appear in a reality TV program – as she deflected accusations that she wasn’t a serious contender.

Jenner launched a statewide tour last month, kicking it off just days before ballots were sent to voters. 

Jenner, along with Elder, has skipped the gubernatorial debates, agreeing with her rival that she would only attend if Newsom took part in the showdowns.

KEVIN KILEY 

First elected to the state Assembly in 2016, the Republican lawmaker has become a vocal opponent of the Democratic governor.

Kiley, a former teacher, attorney and state prosecutor, has pushed to end California’s COVID state of emergency, and like many of the other replacement candidates, he’s pilloried Newsom’s handling of the state’s homelessness crisis. 

KEVIN PAFFRATH

Newsom and state Democratic leaders for months discouraged fellow Democrats from running as replacement candidates. 

But Paffrath, a real estate broker who has some 1.7 subscribers on his YouTube channel, has grabbed attention in becoming the only Democrat among the pack of leading contenders.

Paffrath describes himself as a “JFK-style Democrat.”

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