California Dreaming.

Supporters of Gov. Gavin Newsom tacitly acknowledged this week that the Democratic governor will likely face a special election seeking his removal from office, as Newsom’s critics said they have collected more than 2 million signatures on petitions to force a vote this year.

If the recall campaign’s results hold steady from last month, when state officials reported that almost 84% of the initial signatures were valid, there would be more than enough signed petitions to trigger an election. Registrars of voters in California’s 58 counties have until late April to finish reviewing the petitions.

(R)ecall elections can be unpredictable.

A run-of-the-mill election for state office in California follows a predictable two-step. First, every candidate crowds onto a single ballot and voters cast their ballots for whomever they like — regardless of party. Next, the top two winners from the first round go head-to-head in a second and final contest.

That “top-two” set-up ensures that the candidate who wins will have received more than 50% of the vote. The will of the majority rules, guaranteed.

Recall elections offer no such guarantee. Voters are first asked whether they would like to give the incumbent the boot. Then, in a second question, they are asked who ought to be the replacement. Under California law, incumbents can’t run to replace themselves. (So Governor Newsom is not on the “replacement” ballot)

If more than 50% of voters opt for a “yes” on the recall question, whoever comes first on the replacement list is immediately hired as the state’s next chief executive.

It’s not clear right now if any Democrats would run to replace Newsom. “Anything and everything is on the table,” California Democratic Party leader Rusty Hicks said in January.

One theory is that Newsom would be better positioned to beat back the recall if the options to replace him are too conservative for most California voters. “If they want to hold onto the governorship… it would be in Democrats’ best interests not to put up an alternate candidate,” said Democratic political consultant Marva Diaz, an editor of the nonpartisan California Targetbook. That would allow Democrats to focus on telling voters to vote “no” on the recall, and allow them to steer clear of a confusing message like, “Vote no on the recall, but if you vote yes, vote for…”

The other theory? “It would be political malpractice not to have a Democrat on the ballot on the second question” as insurance if Newsom’s numbers worsen, said Mike Madrid, a GOP political consultant not involved in the recall.

Dave Gilliard, a Republican consultant working on the recall campaign, anticipates a large field of candidates from across the political spectrum: “Once it’s apparent that the recall is going to be on the ballot, I think there will be major candidates from all parties, even independents. Voters will have lots of choices. I don’t think either party can control who will run and not run.”

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