With the 2020 election now ended already the 2022 California election is getting attention so I may as well jump in and take a look at the governor’s race. Conjecturing about a political campaign so far in the future and basing some of the thinking on current circumstances is not political science. But as long time Democratic political consultant, the late Joe Cerrell used to say, it would be better to call the study of politics political arts. So, let’s be creative. 

One would not think that discussing the re-election prospect of a Democratic incumbent in a solid blue state who has scored around a 50% approval rating and higher in recent polls is worth pondering. But unexpected political turns because of the coronavirus, the governor’s actions as an individual at the French Laundry restaurant, and government’s response overall has clouded the picture. 

While most pundits are asking if Newsom is vulnerable to a Republican challenge—a situation we’ll consider below—there are other aspects of the governor’s re-election to ponder. These other considerations are a long shot at best, but have had little comment so far, including the possibility of a challenge to the governor from his own party or the current move to recall the governor. 

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has indicated he is considering a run for governor. A moderate Republican who lines up with a majority of Californians on issues such as immigration and the environment, Faulconer would seem to be the choice of the Republican establishment and members of the business community if they decide to oppose the incumbent, not a sure thing. 

Businessman John Cox, Newsom’s Republican rival in 2018, also announced his determination to run again and he believes his name ID with Republican voters across the state is much stronger than that of Faulconer and that he is well-established with GOP base voters. 

Either Republican would be a remote possibility by any measure in this Democratic state. However, here’s an interesting thought to ponder. As Republican consultant Mike Madrid stated in a Pat Brown Institute conference yesterday looking at the recent election, voters trust in government is low and for 30 years they have voted for divided government to put a check on excesses from both parties. 

A Republican governor would certainly serve as a check on a supermajority and recently expanded Democratic legislature. The liberal states of Massachusetts and Maryland both have Republican governors. Can it happen here? 

Then there are the wild card issues to consider. Might Newsom be challenged by a member of his own party if he is perceived to be weakened by circumstances such as the pandemic response? The candidate probably would need a good base and likely would come from Newsom’s left, which won’t be easy. Kevin de León took on Dianne Feinstein for the U.S. 

Senate, which surprised observers. 

More likely a challenger would not have the same high profile as the former senate pro tem de León had, but still could scramble the race enough to damage Newsom going into the general election against whomever finishes second in the top two primary.

Then there is the real unknown of the recall. Recently, proponents of the recall were given an extension of four months to gather signatures due to the pandemic. The recall advocates only have half the signatures they need so they still have a large hill to climb. 

This is where John Cox could advance his standing. He has already donated to the recall effort. A larger donation might push the signature gathering toward its goal. Remember that the Gray Davis recall did not take off until Darryl Issa kicked in a bundle. Cox should remember, however, that Issa had designs on the governor’s office, but that plan went away when Arnold Schwarzenegger jumped into the race. 

If a recall qualifies—a big if—then some of the many Democrats looking to advance to higher office might see an opportunity and jump in. 

All this conjecture is interesting although the likelihood is that Gavin Newsom will be around for two terms—that is unless he appoints himself to the United States Senate!