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Why recall effort against California Gov. Newsom is not history repeating

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LOS ANGELES — The recall effort against California Gov. Gavin Newsom is already showing signs of turning into another circus like the one that ultimately brought down Gray Davis in 2003.

On Tuesday, Axios reported that Caitlyn Jenner, the former reality star, Olympian and stepparent to the even more famous Kardashian clan, is considering entering the gubernatorial race if a recall petition qualifies for the ballot. NBC has not verified whether Jenner intends to run and she has not publicly announced a decision.

Jenner’s potential candidacy marks the first of what many strategists believe will be a long line of celebrity and novelty candidates that could closely mirror what California voters experienced in 2003 when adult film star Mary Carey, child actor Gary Coleman and “Hustler” publisher Larry Flynt added their names to the a list of more than 100 would-be governors. Action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger ultimately won that election.

Nearly 20 years later, the comparisons stop there.

None of the three Republican contenders who have announced intentions to run for governor have statewide name recognition similar to Schwarzenegger’s. Kevin Faulconer, considered the likely frontrunner as of now, is the former mayor of San Diego and not well known outside of Southern California. Businessman John Cox lost to Newsom in 2018 by double digits and Doug Ose, a former congressman, also briefly ran for governor in 2018 before dropping out of the race, The Associated Press reported.

“The biggest thing Newsom has to do is keep a Democrat from running,” said Rob Stutzman, a Republican strategist and former Schwarzenegger spokesman. “So far so good, but it’s also easy right now. We’re in for several months of waiting.”

Recall organizers say they collected more than 2 million signatures, well above the 1.5 million needed to meet the state’s threshold. Counties have until the end of April to verify signatures and report their tallies to state election officials. California’s Finance Department will take about 30 days to produce a cost estimate for the election before a legislative panel reviews the findings. Only then will an election date be set.

If a recall qualifies for the ballot, voters will be asked two questions: The first would be whether they want to recall Newsom and the second would be who should replace him. There is no limit to how many people can run, and whoever gets the most votes wins.

Since Davis was recalled in 2003, the political landscape of California has shifted increasingly to the left. Registered Republican voters accounted for 35 percent of the California electorate in February 2003, according to the California Secretary of State’s office, while this year they account for 24 percent.

By contrast, 44 percent were registered as Democrats in 2003, and this year it’s 46 percent. In 2003, 15 percent declined to state what party they were in, while this year, 24 percent of voters registered under “no party preference.”

“Politically we’re a completely different state than we were in 2003,” Katie Merrill, a Democratic strategist, said on Wednesday during a Facebook Live panel hosted by the Sacramento Press Club. “If you look at the statewide races, the Republican Party has effectively become a third party in California.”

Added Democratic strategist Ace Smith during the panel: “It’s a different time. We’re in a state where frankly there used to be Republicans who used to be somewhat moderate. The Republican party of Trump has lost [its] way.”

Former President Donald Trump, whose name has been repeatedly invoked as a kind of political bogeyman, marks another notable difference between the recall effort against Newsom and the campaign against Davis.

Since the effort to oust Newsom first surfaced, California Democrats have collectively rallied around the notion that the recall campaign is a power grab by Trump loyalists bitter about losing the White House to President Joe Biden.

Last month, Dan Newman, a campaign advisor for Newsom, called the recall campaign “pure partisan politics” while Newsom said white supremacists and right-wing militia groups, including the Proud Boys, are among the recall backers.

“We’re just concerned about violence moving into the future as we move farther and farther away from the January insurrection and we put down our guard. We must remain vigilant about these groups and how serious they are,” Newsom said on MSNBC in March. “All you need is about a quarter of the people who supported Trump to just sign a petition and it appears they’ve done that.”

In 2003, Davis had no such specter to deflect attention away from his office. He was already embroiled in various crises when he won a second term in 2002. Davis had been heavily criticized for reacting too slowly to an energy crisis that knocked out power for more than a million residents across the state between 2000 and 2001. He later apologized for his handling of the situation but the debacle took a toll on his reputation.

Davis won reelection in 2002 with 47 percent of the vote. By 2003, just 27 percent of California voters approved of his job performance, the Los Angeles Times reported at the time. The option to recall Davis received 55 percent of the vote.

By contrast, 40 percent of California voters said they would elect to recall Newsom and 79 percent of those respondents self-identified as Republicans, according to a survey by the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonpartisan research organization. Newsom’s approval rating is also higher than Davis’ was going into a recall. As of last month, Newsom’s approval rating among likely voters is at 53 percent with 42 percent of respondents saying they disapprove of his job performance.

“If no other Democrat gets into the race and it stays like this — the economy is recovering, the coronavirus doesn’t spike again, and all that looks good — then he’s not going to be nearly as unpopular as Davis was,” Stutzman said.

Unlike Davis, whose administration was mired by a $38 billion budget deficit, Newsom boasted of a $15 billion one-time surplus at the beginning of the year, according to his 2021-22 budget proposal. During the pandemic, wealthy Californians made $185 billion in capital gains income, or money earned from the sale of assets, which resulted in $18.5 billion in tax revenue for the state, The Associated Press reported. Because of the surplus, Newsom’s plan would spend $25 billion more than last year.

But record homelessness and joblessness have continued to plague California throughout the pandemic, and now experts are warning that this summer could bring another catastrophic round of fires up and down the state. As residents battle crises on multiple fronts, recall backers say it’s too soon to celebrate victory.

“What a disconnect,” said recall fundraiser Anne Dunsmore. “You got people living on the streets, being flooded out of their tents, and we’re going to brag about a surplus? Go spend it.”

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Ohio Republican Senate candidate running as a Trump ally once called him a ‘maniac’

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CLEVELAND — As a Republican Senate candidate in Ohio, businessman Bernie Moreno hews close to former President Donald Trump’s brand.

The car dealer and blockchain technology entrepreneur from the Cleveland area presents himself in much the same outsider’s vein. And last month Moreno submitted himself to what has been described as a “Hunger Games”-like competition for Trump’s support during a private meeting he and three rivals had with the former president in Florida.

But five years ago, Moreno wanted nothing to do with then-candidate Trump as the New York real estate tycoon and reality TV star romped his way to the Republican nomination and White House.

Moreno, according to emails obtained by NBC News, bashed Trump as a “lunatic” and “maniac” when corresponding with a national Republican fundraising consultant seeking donations. Moreno said he would, in an upcoming meeting with the Pope, ask “for a convention miracle” in which then-House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida “emerge as the saviors of the Republican Party.”

And he suggested he would stop donating to the national party if Trump became its leader.

“I am a hard core true believer in the party! But … If Donald Trump is nominated, I will consider that a hostile take over and no longer associate myself with THAT, new GOP,” Moreno wrote in a March 2016 exchange, responding to a request that he meet with then-Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus during a visit to Cleveland. Moreno noted that he would be out of state at the time.

“I completely get the position Reince is in and he is doing the best he can with a lunatic invading the party,” Moreno added. “In retrospect, more could/should have been done early, but I don’t blame anyone for that. Hindsight is always 20/20.”

Moreno closed the email prophetically: “The worst part for me,” he wrote, “I think trump can beat Hillary!”

A month later, as Trump tightened his grip on the nomination from a field that started with 17 candidates, the fundraising consultant followed up with Moreno and acknowledged concerns “about the situation at the presidential level” and wondered if Moreno might contribute to a separate fund for Senate hopefuls.

“Given that I see a future where trump is the leader of what used to be my party, I’ve sidelined myself,” Moreno replied. “I will support individual candidates, but can’t support a party led by that maniac.”

Moreno’s campaign, in response to questions about the emails, forwarded additional emails from the correspondence. One of them included the consultant commiserating to Moreno about “a very weird place we are in” and that “no one would have expected this to be where we are in March 2016.”

Moreno’s campaign also noted that the consultant now raises money for one of Moreno’s GOP primary opponents, Jane Timken, former chair of the state’s Republican Party.

“This email exchange was with Jane Timken’s current fundraiser,” Moreno campaign manager Parker Briden said. “At the time the fundraiser was raising money for the RNC when these five-year-old emails were exchanged.”

“Bernie gave more than $50,000 to the RNC and related entities in the Trump 2016 cycle,” Briden added. “That includes thousands of dollars from after this conversation — to support Republicans up and down the ballot. He was obviously fired up and disappointed in the moment years ago, but he supported Donald Trump, donated to him, and is fired up for his agenda.”

The donation to Trump came at an October 2020 event in Cleveland for Trump Victory, a joint fundraising venture with the RNC, a Moreno campaign spokesman said.

Moreno had raised money for Rubio’s presidential bid and contributed to then-Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s White House campaign early in the 2016 cycle. His company also gave $20,000 to the Republican National Convention’s host committee in Cleveland long before it was known Trump would be the nominee.

His initial Trump skepticism does not make Moreno unique among Republicans angling to succeed GOP Sen. Rob Portman, who announced in January that he was retiring.

Former State treasurer Josh Mandel also had first supported Rubio, and Timken had backed Kasich. But Mandel and Timken also would eventually nurture strong ties to the Trump network. Mandel did it through the political aides he loaned to Trump for the 2016 general election, Timken through her years as Trump’s handpicked head of the Ohio Republican Party.

Both have spent the early days of the developing primary trying to outdo each other on the measure of who’s most loyal to Trump.

As Briden noted, despite renouncing the GOP in his emails with the fundraiser, Moreno continued contributing to other top party leaders and organizations in the run-up to Trump’s election victory. He gave $10,000 each to Ryan’s super PAC and the National Republican Congressional Committee that fall, according to the Federal Election Commission.

The following year, as the 2018 midterm campaigns began, Moreno was a top donor to the successful House campaign of Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, the former NFL wide receiver and Ohio State Buckeyes standout. Gonzalez — one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump this year for inciting the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol — now rates as one of the most despised figures in the former president’s political orbit.

In an April 2019 interview with Cleveland’s NBC affiliate, WKYC, Moreno corrected the interviewer when asked about his support for Trump.

“No, my daughter works on Trump 2020,” Moreno said. “And she’s free to do that. We have a vigorous debate at home about politics, and my daughter works on the Trump campaign. That doesn’t mean that I support the Trump campaign.”

A Moreno spokesperson said Monday that the prominent local businessman did not want to overshadow his daughter’s professional work.

Today, Moreno leans unabashedly into Trump. He sprinkled his official campaign launch last week with other gestures to Trump and his supporters. He’s been endorsed by Trump loyalist and former U.S. ambassador Richard Grenell and his steering committee includes allies of the former president with Ohio ties, including the Rev. Darrell Scott and former White House aide Ja’Ron Smith. And where Moreno was once a GOP donor who wanted his party to cancel Trump, he’s now a vocal defender.

“Big Tech companies colluded to erase President Donald J. Trump from the internet because they hate what he represents,” Moreno writes on his website. “If they can silence him, what will they do to the rest of us if we step out of line?”

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Brexit LIVE: UK nears major breakthrough in hated NI deal after EU files legal action

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UK OFFICIALS are poised to make a major breakthrough in talks on the controversial Northern Ireland protocol, just weeks after the EU launched legal action over the matter.

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Verhofstadt attacked over 'farce of EU’s democratic values’ after rant against Orban

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GUY VERHOFSTADT’S attempt to interfere in Hungarian politics has been torn apart by observers who said the eurocrat was “illustrating the farce of so-called EU’s democratic values” with his rant.

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