Republican candidates hoping to oust California Gov. Gavin Newsom from office in September’s recall election participated in their first debate Wednesday, trading barbs and taking shots against the man first elected in 2018. 

The four participants — John Cox, Kevin Faulconer, Kevin Kiley and Doug Ose — claimed Newsom had failed in his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, forcing businesses to close and allowing housing costs to soar. 

Republicans Caitlyn Jenner and Larry Elder declined invitations to join the debate, according FOX 11 of Los Angeles, which televised the event. Newsom did not respond to an invitation from the Richard Nixon Presidential Library, which hosted the debate, ABC News reported.

The evening focused on conservative issues like building more water storage, restraining state powers and slowing the flow of taxpayer dollars to illegal immigrants.

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“This used to be the state where anyone could get ahead. Now it’s the state that many can’t wait to leave behind, and our soaring housing costs are central to that,” said Kiley, a state Assembly member.

“This used to be the state where anyone could get ahead. Now it’s the state that many can’t wait to leave behind.”

— Kevin Kiley, California candidate for governor

California Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, R-Rocklin. (Associated Press)

California Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, R-Rocklin. (Associated Press)

The nature of the Sept. 14 recall, in which voters will be asked if Newsom should be recalled – and if a majority say yes then the challenger with the most votes wins — means that a candidate with a small percentage of the vote could become the next governor of the deeply Democratic state. 

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While it appeared months ago that Newsom would easily fend off the recall, recent polls have shown a tightening race – and Democrats are concerned that low voter turnout could hand the election to a Republican. 

From left are California Republican gubernatorial candidates John Cox, Kevin Faulconer, Kevin Kiley and Doug Ose as they participate in a debate at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California, Aug. 4, 2021. (Associated Press)

From left are California Republican gubernatorial candidates John Cox, Kevin Faulconer, Kevin Kiley and Doug Ose as they participate in a debate at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California, Aug. 4, 2021. (Associated Press)

During the debate, Faulconer touted his progress on cutting homelessness while he was mayor of San Diego but Ose, a former congressman, claimed Faulconer’s numbers were wrong. Faulconer disputed that and also urged Californians to get vaccinated as the delta variant surges across the state. 

Faulconer said he opposes mask mandates in schools, but wouldn’t give a clear answer on whether he’d prohibit schools from requiring masks.

Ose promised to swiftly replace Newsom appointees across state government. 

Cox, a businessman who lost to Newsom in 2018, said he would call a special legislative session to deal with housing costs.

Kiley said he would rein in the coronavirus-related emergency powers wielded by Newsom. Kiley said he believes in “personal choice” regarding vaccinations.

Newsom aide responds

After the debate, Newsom campaign spokesman Nathan Click issued a statement reacting to the event.

“Each of them tried to do their best Larry Elder impression – the closest thing we have to Trump here in California and the clear front runner in the race. All of them said they wouldn’t lift a finger to protect Californians against the Delta variant or even require health care workers to prove their vaccination status. That’s pretty outrageous.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a news conference in Oakland, California, July 26, 2021. (Associated Press)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a news conference in Oakland, California, July 26, 2021. (Associated Press)

Elder was attending a Bakersfield fundraiser. His spokeswoman said Elder wants to debate Newsom and warned in a tweet that a “circular firing squad” among GOP candidates would only benefit the governor.

Jenner was reportedly in Australia shooting a reality TV show. 

Newsom and Democrats have sought to link the recall effort to far-right extremists and supporters of former President Donald Trump. 

On Wednesday, a judge tentatively ruled in Newsom’s favor in a lawsuit that sought to block him from labeling the recall a Republican effort in the state’s official voter guide.

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The recall, which could remove Newsom in the midst of his first term, 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.

Mail-in ballots will start being sent out to voters in the next two weeks. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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