With ballots already mailed to voters in California deciding whether to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom in a Sept. 14 recall election, the embattled governor is pulling out all the stops, leaning on supporters in the entertainment industry to help raise money and rally followers to reject the recall effort.
Since he was elected governor in 2018, Newsom — a San Francisco native — has made concerted efforts to spend more time in Southern California and make inroads with the powerful political constituencies in and around Los Angeles that obviously include the entertainment industry (it’s no coincidence that he held his 2018 election night party in downtown L.A. and delivered his annual State of the State address at Dodger Stadium in March). Now, he’s hoping that the local networking will pay off.
One example: Newsom aides have reached out to several prominent celebrities including Snoop Dogg, urging the rapper to tweet to his 19.2 million followers his disapproval of Republican radio talk show host Larry Elder, who has emerged as a leading candidate to replace Newsom in the event that the governor is recalled. Snoop, according to a source, has agreed and is waiting for the right moment — but others aren’t holding their fire.
“Don’t DeSantis our California. Reject the ridiculous recall. Vote No and return your ballot by 9/14,” tweeted singer John Legend, who on Aug. 23 flagged Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ lax COVID-19 protocols. Comedian George Lopez, a friend of the governor’s, has also been actively tweeting in opposition to the recall.
“It’s all about reaching the lower-propensity voters, and that group is largely made up of younger people,” says political consultant Nathan Ballard, who has been an adviser to Newsom. “The governor is a celebrity in his own right, but the connective tissue between this administration and the entertainment industry couldn’t be greater, and we are going to need their help.”
California voters will be asked to vote “Yes” or “No” on Newsom’s removal and then pick his replacement from a field of 46 candidates. But Newsom is going to need more than celebrity tweets to get him out of this jam. RealClearPolitics’ polling average shows the percentage of voters who support recalling Newsom outpace those who oppose by a 48 percent to 47.5 percent margin as of Aug. 24. (More than 50 percent of the vote is needed to recall the governor.)
Compounding matters for Newsom are a fired-up GOP base and potential apathy among Democrats, which have been major concerns for the governor’s team. Celebrity get-out-the-vote campaigns could help combat this, even as early mail-in-ballot results have been encouraging for Newsom: Registered Democrats have mailed in more than twice as many ballots as registered Republicans. (Due to GOP voters’ preference to vote in person, this early lead could be short-lived.)
Recently, Newsom has been tapping his network of Hollywood megadonors to raise money to both fight the recall and prepare for his reelection in 2022 in the event his governorship survives. In August, consultancy Gonring, Lin, Spahn organized a Zoom event that was hosted by industry notables Jeffrey Katzenberg, Casey Wasserman, Andrew Hauptman and Van Fletcher, among others, which drew a dozen attendees, including Rob and Michelle Reiner, Alan and Cindy Horn, Byron Allen, Janet and Barry Lang, Ann Sarnoff and Matt Walden. The event raised more than $1 million to fight the recall effort.
In May, Netflix’s Reed Hastings set a high bar for donors after he gave $3 million to Newsom’s anti-recall political action committee, which further cements Hastings and his wife, filmmaker and activist Patty Quillin, as top power donors within the California political scene.
Katzenberg, who gave $500,000 to the effort, circulated a letter in August to other potential donors that outlined the stark stakes: “Governor Newsom was first elected in 2018 with 62% of the vote, which was greater than any Democratic candidate for governor in state history. He recently signed into law his California Comeback plan, which will boost California’s recovery by providing immediate relief for families, combat homelessness, improve infrastructure, fight wildfires and make historic investments in education.”
This story first appeared in the Aug. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.