California Republican says he’s running to replace Gavin Newsom as governor

Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced Monday he’s running for governor, making him the second prominent California Republican to jump into a race fueled by an attempt to recall current Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Faulconer joins fellow Republican John Cox, who challenged Newsom in 2018. Cox, a businessman, lost to Newsom by nearly 24 percentage points but says he plans to run again if the recall qualifies for the ballot.

Faulconer said he plans to run, whether in the potential recall election or in California’s regularly scheduled gubernatorial election in 2022.

Political observers have long seen Faulconer as a potential candidate for governor because of his reputation as a moderate Republican elected to lead a Democratic-leaning city. For years, Republicans have had trouble winning big races in California, where 46% of voters are registered as Democrats and only 24% as Republicans.

“I’m running for governor because it’s time for a California comeback,” he said in an interview with The Sacramento Bee. “I’m going to be a voice for Californians who are suffering because Sacramento can’t do the basics.”

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Faulconer has endorsed the effort to recall Newsom, which began before the coronavirus pandemic but has gained steam as people have grown dissatisfied with the Democratic governor’s COVID-19 response. Recall organizers have also benefited from an extended deadline to collect signatures after arguing successfully in court that the pandemic interfered with that effort.

Faulconer has been a vocal critic of Newsom’s COVID-19 policies and criticized him harshly Monday for failing to reopen schools. When asked how he would open schools more quickly than Newsom, Faulconer said he would demonstrate more leadership.

“It’s about leadership,” he said. “You have to lean into it.”

Faulconer also faulted Newsom for California’s slow vaccine rollout, saying the Newsom administration failed to adequately plan to distribute vaccines.

Faulconer pointed to his track record in San Diego, where homelessness declined during his time as mayor. That’s accurate, although changes in the way homeless people are counted makes direct year-to-year comparisons difficult, the Voice of San Diego has reported.

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He also pointed to his record of increasing police funding in San Diego.

The recall effort must collect nearly 1.5 million valid signatures to trigger an election later this year. On Sunday, the campaign said it had collected 1.3 million raw signatures. They’ll need far more signatures than the bare minimum needed to qualify to make up for invalid signatures, and some political experts have said they’ll need more campaign cash to get over the finish line by the March 17 deadline.

Faulconer has not contributed any money so far to the recall effort, according to filings with the Secretary of State’s Office. Cox, meanwhile, has chipped in $50,000.

“The state is in crisis,” Cox said during a televised interview on Fox40. “It’s kind of the things I talked about in 2018, housing and homelessness are worse, but now we have the pandemic and the mismanagement that’s gone on.”

Cox also mentioned small businesses struggling, kids kept out of school and California’s slow vaccine distribution.

Faulconer voted for former President Donald Trump last year, a potential albatross for him as he tries to run in a state that rejected Trump by 29 percentage points in November.

Cox also has ties to Trump, who endorsed his 2018 run against Newsom.

Both men also face an uphill battle challenging Newsom, whose overall popularity in California grew last year during the pandemic. In December, a poll by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California found 58% of California adults approved of Newsom’s handling of the economy.

Faulconer said he believes he can win in California because he won election twice in San Diego, where voter registration roughly mirrors that of the state.

“I’ve done it in San Diego,” he said. “I’ve always been known as somebody who brings people together.”

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