Republican National Committee leaders reverse push for California recall endorsement

Two powerful California Republicans urged members of the state GOP Friday to withhold an endorsement in the upcoming recall election that could remove Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom from office.

The California Republican Party has been squabbling over whether to anoint a single candidate with its stamp of approval from among a large field of contenders that includes conservative talk radio host Larry Elder, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, businessman John Cox and former Olympian and reality TV personality Caitlyn Jenner.

In an email obtained by The Associated Press dated Friday, Republican National Committee members Harmeet Dhillon and Shawn Steel urged party delegates not to endorse a candidate in their scheduled meeting Saturday.

With a large field of GOP contenders, they said in the email that the party shouldn’t risk discouraging voters whose favorite candidates might get snubbed. Recent polls show a tight contest.

"The polls are showing that the recall is in a statistical tie and we cannot afford to discourage voters who are passionate about a particular candidate, yet may not vote because their favored candidate didn’t receive the endorsement," they wrote.

The email added: "Any of our GOP candidates would be superior to Gavin Newsom. We believe that the voters should decide his replacement, which will not only ensure a higher turnout of recall proponents but give Newsom’s successor the best chance of reelection in 2022."

Dhillon and Steel’s declaration represents a turnabout because they earlier supported a party bylaw change that set the stage for a possible endorsement. They wrote in the email that the bylaw shift was proposed months before anyone knew how many Republicans would qualify for the ballot.

The party was gearing up for its contentious Saturday meeting on the endorsement. Four candidates have qualified for consideration: Elder, Faulconer, state Assemblyman Kevin Kiley and former congressman Doug Ose.

There will be 46 replacement candidates on the Sept. 14 ballot, including 24 Republicans.

Earlier, the conservative Cox accused party insiders of trying to steer the endorsement to Faulconer, a centrist. Cox, in protest of what he viewed as a rigged process, said he wouldn't seek the endorsement.

Cox applauded Dhillon and Steel for the reversal, saying the endorsement threatened to divide Republicans while driving away independents and other potential recall supporters "when we need everybody."

"A Republican endorsement would just send the message that somehow we agree with Newsom that this is some kind of partisan effort. It is not," Cox said in an interview.

The recall grew out of widespread frustration during the pandemic over whipsaw stay-at-home orders, crushing job losses from business closures and long-running school closures that together disrupted life for millions.

In the recall election, voters will be asked two questions: First, should Newsom be removed, yes or no? The second question will be a list of replacement candidates from which to choose.

If a majority votes for Newsom’s removal, the candidate who gets the most votes on the second question becomes governor.