California Republican Challenging Gavin Newsom Won't Say if He Wants Trump's Endorsement

A California Republican bidding to unseat Governor Gavin Newsom would not be drawn on any potential endorsement by Donald Trump, who is seen as a kingmaker in the party he has shaped over the past few years.

Newsom, a Democrat, is facing recall amid a campaign by his political opponents. A recall petition is on course to trigger a gubernatorial election as the mid-March deadline for signatures draws closer.

Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has put himself forward as a Republican candidate for California governor, be that in the next scheduled election of 2022 or sooner if the recall effort succeeds.

In an interview with Newsweek, Faulconer deflected when asked if he wanted Trump's endorsement for his campaign in California. Trump is highly influential in Republican politics because of his continuing firm grip on the party's voter base.

Faulconer has criticized Trump in the past, but voted for him in the 2020 election, telling KPBS in December the decision was "absolutely based on" the "economic recovery" which made it a "clear choice."

"I think this race will garner national attention. But, my focus is going to continue to be right on California," Faulconer told Newsweek when asked if he wanted Trump's endorsement.

"I'm going to be talking about the issue that Californians want, what they need in terms of jobs leaving our state, homelessness, opening up our schools."

Pressed again on whether he was seeking or wanted Trump's backing, Faulconer said: "It's a hypothetical question, obviously. But as I said before, I've made my whole career in terms of what I've been able to do. I'm very proud of my record, and I'm looking to gain the support of Californians up and down the state."

California's system has a non-partisan blanket primary contest. In a normal election, the top two candidates in the primary then go forward to the general election to decide which will become governor.

But in a recall election, the process is slightly different. Voters are given a two-part ballot. The first asks if the voter would like to recall the governor. If more than 50 percent vote yes, the second part kicks in.

The voter is then asked to choose who should replace the governor from a list of certified candidates. The candidate with the most votes wins, even if they do not secure a majority.

Given California's liberal-leaning political makeup, a Trump endorsement, or any positive association with the former president, is likely to buoy support among Republicans but put off independents and moderate voters of either party.

Faulconer launched his gubernatorial bid at the start of February as Newsom's approval rating took a turn for the worse while recall signatures mounted.

As he announced his candidacy outside a closed school, Faulconer called for a "California comeback" and dubbed the governor the "promise-breaker-in-chief" as he attacked his recording on housing and the economy.

"This is a movement to decide whether we stay in the past with Governor Newsom's one-party rule or we embrace a new future," Faulconer said at the time.

Speaking to Newsweek about the prospect of Newsom's recall, Faulconer said there is no "doubt that it's going to happen" and acknowledged that it would create a wide field of candidates who seize the opportunity.

"I think in a recall scenario, you're likely to get numerous candidates. That was certainly the case last time in California, where we had over 100 candidates on the ballot," Faulconer said.

"I think what people are going to be looking for is somebody who has had the experience tackling the big issues in California, and I've done that as mayor of San Diego, the second-largest city in California.

"I am a proud Republican who has been elected twice in a majority Democrat city. So if you run statewide in California you need to attract Democrats, independents, and Republicans. You win by addition. I've done that as mayor."

The Recall Newsom campaign says it has more than 1.8 million signatures toward an overall target of 2 million. It needs nearly 1.5 million signatures to be validated for recall to put on the ballot.

"Our campaign continues, our work is not done, it is just entering a new phase," Orrin Heatlie, the chairman of the California Patriot Coalition, said in a statement last Thursday.

"We have overcome incredible obstacles in this effort, and we will not rest until Governor Newsom is removed from office by the People of California."

The campaign had filed around 1.1 million signatures to election officials. Out of the some 800,000 that had been vetted as of last week, nearly 670,000 were declared valid—a rate of roughly 84 percent, according to the California secretary of state's office.

If the campaign reaches 2 million signatures and maintains that validation rate, it will successfully get the recall on the ballot.

Were that to happen, and he went on to win the recall election, Faulconer would make homelessness a policy priority of his governorship.

"The unfortunate reality is that it's going by double-digits in virtually every city," Faulconer told Newsweek, noting that his team in San Diego "reduced it by double digits."

"I spent more time on homelessness in my last several years as mayor, and rightfully so. I have a fundamental belief that every person has a right to shelter, and so we provided significant resources and shelter options for San Diegans.

"I did not allow tent encampments on the sidewalk in San Diego. It made a huge difference in getting people off the streets, getting them the help they needed, the resources, and then ultimately matching them with an apartment of their own."

Faulconer said he would "take that exact same approach" statewide: "I would do exactly that as governor."

Kevin Faulconer challenging Gavin Newsom in California
Former San Diego Mayor and Republican candidate for California Governor Kevin Faulconer speaks during a news conference in front of Abraham Lincoln High School on February 17, 2021 in San Francisco, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images