Meet the candidates trying to replace Newsom in California recall election

California Governor Recall

SAN DIEGO — Dozens of candidates will appear on the ballot in September’s California gubernatorial recall election, vying to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom if a majority of voters approve removing him from office.

The field — led primarily by a group of high-profile Republican challengers — has been united in criticizing the sitting governor, but candidates come from a variety of backgrounds ranging from San Diego’s former mayor to a conservative talk show host and a YouTuber in his 20s. The replacement candidates also propose differing visions for the Golden State’s future under new leadership.

Below is an introduction to some of the candidates who have gained the most media attention, placed highest in statewide polling or competed for their party’s endorsement, with links to their campaign websites for more details. You’ll also find a list of more candidates appearing on the ballot, with links to their campaign sites when available.

The incumbent

Gov. Gavin Newsom

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Newsom, a Democrat nearing the end of his first term as California governor after winning handily in 2018, has consistently branded the recall election as a cynical “partisan effort” — arguing that the special contest has less to do with his performance as governor than it does with the GOP seizing an opportunity to remove a Democrat from office.

The governor’s campaign has focused on the state’s efforts to navigate out of the pandemic, touting the state’s vaccination rate and big spending initiatives passed from his “California Comeback Plan,” including direct relief payments of up to $1,100 to Californians, $4 billion in relief for small businesses and $12 billion toward housing and addressing homelessness.

Republican challengers

Some of the race’s most prominent Republicans, in alphabetical order:

John Cox

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Cox is a multimillionaire businessman and Rancho Santa Fe resident who was the Republican nominee in the 2018 governor’s race. Cox brands himself as a political “outsider,” and generated attention (and controversy) for touring the state with a Kodiak bear and giant ball of trash during the campaign.

Cox has placed significant focus on plans to slash state taxes, proposing what he says would amount to a $30 billion tax cut. In a debate, Cox said “the real, true minimum wage … should be zero,” arguing that incomes should be determined exclusively by workers and employers. He’s also advocated for a “treatment-first” approach to homelessness, saying he would force people to receive mental health or drug treatment services when relevant before being allowed to access housing.

Watch Cox’s interview with Inside California Politics here.

Larry Elder

Elder is a syndicated conservative radio host and columnist. Branding himself the “Sage from South Central” — referencing his Los Angeles roots — Elder is a self-described libertarian, the political philosophy centered on limiting government involvement in daily life. Elder was a late addition to the ballot after suing to qualify.

Elder has criticized Newsom’s approach to the coronavirus pandemic, writing that encouraging vaccinations and masking is a “reasonable approach” but the extent of California’s public health mandates “trample on individual freedoms.” He’s an advocate of “school choice,” which would allow parents and students more freedom to pick from competing primary institutions. Elder is also critical of the state’s approach to crime and homelessness.

Watch Elder’s interview with Inside California Politics here.

Kevin Faulconer

Faulconer served as San Diego’s mayor for seven years before reaching his term limit in December 2020. The former mayor is generally perceived as a centrist, presenting himself as a problem-solver and touting his status as “America’s only big city Republican mayor” as evidence he could lead Democrat-dominated California.

Homelessness is central to Faulconer’s messaging, with the candidate arguing that he effectively increased services for homeless people while clearing encampments off San Diego’s streets, moving people into shelters. Faulconer has proposed a 0% state income tax for people making up to $50,000 and households up to $100,000. In a debate, Faulconer was emphatic in encouraging residents to get vaccinated and sharply critical of state plans to expand health care to undocumented immigrants.

Watch Faulconer’s interview with Inside California Politics here.

Ted Gaines

Gaines is a member of the State Board of Equalization and a former California state senator and assemblyman. The former lawmaker says he operates as a “pro-business, pro-family” advocate on the tax-oversight agency and has focused his campaign messaging on “fiscal responsibility” and job creation.

Gaines argues that state policies hinder California’s economic potential and he’s vowed to push against new tax increases, repeal the state’s gas tax and protect Proposition 13, the cap on property taxes that was partially threatened by the failed Proposition 15 in 2020. Gaines has also said he would restore harsher criminal sentencing and disallow “sanctuary cities” in the state.

Caitlyn Jenner

(Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Jenner, the former Olympian and reality TV star, added a splash of celebrity and drew national attention when she entered the race. The candidate, who would be the state’s first openly transgender governor, has said she would lead as an “inclusive Republican.” She recently denied reports she was pausing her campaign after flying to Australia to film a reality show, and she has a California bus tour planned for mid-August.

Jenner calls California “the most regulated state in the nation” and has promised to cut through red tape by changing or eliminating policies that in her opinion limit business growth and make building housing too expensive. Jenner has been critical of the state’s pandemic response, saying California should better balance public health issues with the mental health impact of isolating kids from classmates. Jenner has also said she would “finish the wall” on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Watch Jenner’s interview with Inside California Politics here.

Kevin Kiley

Kiley is a 36-year-old state assemblyman from the Sacramento area who would be the state’s first millennial governor. Kiley has been a vocal critic of the Newsom administration during his time as a lawmaker and emerged as an early favorite of organizers leading the recall effort and collecting signatures.

Kiley has argued that the state’s taxes are too high and taken particular aim at California’s gas tax. On education, the lawmaker has advocated for “school choice” (giving students and their families more flexibility to select their primary school) and has spoken out against teaching critical race theory, the idea that racism is systemic in U.S. institutions. Kiley accuses the Newsom administration of being “corrupt” and says he would limit the reach of the state’s governor to use executive orders for “one-man rule.”

Watch Kiley’s interview with Inside California Politics here.

Doug Ose

UPDATE: Ose dropped out of the race Aug. 17 after suffering a heart attack. He was expected to make a full recovery but said he would end his campaign to focus on rehabilitation.

Ose is a multimillionaire businessman and former Republican congressman who represented a Northern California district in the early 2000s. Generally considered a moderate Republican, Ose says he can work effectively across party lines but that the pandemic exposed what he calls Newsom’s “hypocrisy” and “self-interest” in responding to COVID-19 restrictions.

Ose is another proponent of “school choice” among the field, and he also touts a plan that would put vocational training on “equal footing” with college. Ose says he wants to lower energy costs by removing restrictions on how and where it can be generated. The former lawmaker has also said he would reinstate stricter sentencing for felons and allow for more homeless people with addictions or mental illnesses to be taken into “protective custody” to get them off the streets.

Democratic challengers

No Democrat with major previous political stature decided to run as an alternative to the incumbent governor. Entering, and possibly enticing the state’s Democrats to vote “Yes” to remove Newsom and then select an alternative from the same party, was discouraged by some powerful leaders in the state, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Kevin Paffrath

The 29-year-old Paffrath, who gives financial advice to his nearly 1.7 million subscribers on YouTube, has been the top polling Democrat among a field of nine from the party. He’s argued that it’s time for a “big change” in the state’s politics and that he can shake up the state as a “true JFK-style Democrat.”

Paffrath says he can lead the state with policies that help people “build personal wealth,” including slashing state income taxes. He says that as governor he would call in the National Guard to move California’s homeless population into 80 newly built emergency shelters that provide free meals, showers and hygiene supplies. Frequently, Paffrath says his ideas would be possible through government partnerships with private businesses.

Watch Paffrath’s interview with Inside California Politics here.

More candidates on the ballot

In alphabetical order:

Angelyne | No party preference

Holly L. Baade | Democratic Party

David Alexander Bramante | Republican Party

Heather Collins | Green Party

John R. Drake | Democratic Party

Rhonda Furin | Republican Party

Sam Gallucci | Republican Party

James G. Hanink | No party preference

Jeff Hewitt | Libertarian Party

David Hillberg | Republican Party

Dan Kapelovitz | Green Party

Kevin K. Kaul | No party preference

Chauncey “Slim” Killens | Republican Party

Patrick Kilpatrick | Democratic Party

Jenny Rae Le Roux | Republican Party

Steve Chavez Lodge | Republican Party

Michael Loebs | No party preference

David Lozano | Republican Party

Denis Lucey | No party preference

Jeremiah “Jeremy” Marciniak | No party preference

Diego Martinez | Republican Party

Jacqueline McGowan | Democratic Party

Daniel Mercuri | Republican Party

David Moore | No party preference

Robert C. Newman II | Republican Party

Adam Papagan | No party preference

Armando “Mando” Perez-Serrato | Democratic Party

Dennis Richter | No party preference

Brandon M. Ross | Democratic Party

Major Singh | No party preference

Sarah Stephens | Republican Party

Denver Stoner | Republican Party

Joe M. Symmon | Republican Party

Anthony Trimino | Republican Party

Joel Ventresca | Democratic Party

Daniel Watts | Democratic Party

Nickolas Wildstar | Republican Party

Leo S. Zacky | Republican Party

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

California Governor Recall

More California Governor Recall

Most Popular Stories

Latest News

More News