California’s recall election went into full swing Tuesday, with a Republican candidate’s campaign launch featuring a live, 1,000-pound Kodiak bear — drawing criticisms from animal welfare groups — while Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom defended his record managing the state during the pandemic and other emergencies.
John Cox, a GOP businessman who lost by 24 points to Newsom in 2018, released a three-minute campaign ad Tuesday morning branding himself as a “beast” while painting Newsom as a governor who has failed to lead the state through multiple crises.
He continued the theme at his first campaign stop in Sacramento.
“California can be a beautiful state once again. But that means we need to recall our pretty boy governor, Gavin Newsom,” he said.
Cox slammed Newsom’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has shuttered businesses and schools, though the state continues to lift restrictions and plans to fully reopen the economy by June 15. He also blamed the governor for power blackouts during a record-breaking heat wave last summer, which a state report tied to inadequate preparations for the effects of climate change, and for the state's ongoing housing affordability crisis.
“There’s no conservative or liberal way to provide electricity. There’s no conservative or liberal way to provide water. There’s no liberal or conservative housing out there. People want an affordable and liveable life,” he said.
The 65-year-old Southern California businessman said he earned millions of votes in 2018, but attributed his loss in part to failing to cut through as someone who was unknown in state politics.
“We need to get this message out to everyone in the state of California,” he said. “If the bear helps bring the message home, I’m happy to have it.”
The bear is named Tag and has appeared in movies, TV shows and a Super Bowl commercial. Cox said it was born in captivity and could not survive in the wild.
Debbie Metzler with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals called the use of the bear in a campaign event “unfortunate and shameful.”
“It’s also dangerous, given the bear’s long, sharp claws, which can disfigure or even kill someone with one swipe. Bears need to be left alone to live a bear life, not confined to a pen on asphalt and wheeled out for events,” she said in a statement.
Cox departed Sacramento and took Tag and his campaign bus to the French Laundry, the Michelin-starred restaurant in Napa wine country. Newsom dined there in November with a large group at a time he was urging others to avoid such gatherings, which ignited the recall petition drive.
Transgender TV star and Olympic gold medalist Caitlyn Jenner also launched a campaign video Tuesday morning, bemoaning a state government that is “involved in every part of our lives” and calling herself a “compassionate disrupter.”
Newsom held his own campaign event Tuesday, his first in-person appearance to defend himself from the recall, where he picked up endorsements from state and international firefighters’ unions.
“It’s been an incredibly trying year,” he said. “But what we discovered with that experience was our resilience.”
The governor argued a recall would be a waste of money and a distraction from the state’s economic recovery from the pandemic. Some elections officials believe it could run the state up to $400 million, according to the LA Times.
“Now is not the time to waste hundreds of millions of dollars on a recall effort that is nothing more than a partisan power grab,” Newsom said. The governor called it a “Republican-backed recall” whose lead proponent has advocated for microchipping immigrants.
The recall is “about the values of this state,” he said. “That’s what’s on the ballot.”
The governor did not respond directly to questions about Cox and Jenners’ campaigns and jabs against him, saying instead he is focused on distributing vaccines and preparing for a worrying wildfire season.
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