3 GOP hopefuls spar over homelessness, climate, immigration and COVID-19 in recall debate

Inside California Politics

Hours after new allegations were made public against a top GOP recall candidate, a one-hour debate on KTLA and its California sister stations aired on Thursday evening, bringing together three other Republicans who hope to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, businessman John Cox and Sacramento-area Assemblyman Kevin Kiley took the stage in San Francisco at an event hosted by KRON. It was moderated by KTLA anchor Frank Buckley and Nikki Laurenzo, an anchor at KTXL in Sacramento. The two co-host the weekly Inside California Politics show.

They posed questions about the pandemic and health care, the state’s ongoing drought, climate change, education, infrastructure and the economy. The candidates also answered questions from California voters.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom was invited but declined to attend.

Conservative talk show host Larry Elder, one of the top-polling recall candidates, and Olympian and reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner were likewise asked to participate but chose not to attend. Elder on Thursday pushed back against a Politico story that detailed allegations made by his ex-fiancee that he had brandished a gun at her. When she broke off their engagement, fearing for her safety, she was forced to sign a nondisclosure agreement about Elder that Politico obtained, according to the article.

Kiley, meanwhile, called the allegations “very disturbing” and Jenner described Elder as a “violent womanizer.

There are 46 people running to replace Newsom, and the top vote-getter will take his office if a majority of voters cast “yes” ballots in favor of the recall. That means a successful recall could lead to a new California governor who earned the seat with far less than a majority of votes — and many fewer votes than the 7.7 million Newsom earned in his 2018 election, when he defeated Cox.

Under state law, Newsom may not be a candidate to replace himself, and his campaign has told supporters not to vote for any replacement — that is, to ignore the second question on the recall ballot.

The candidates who qualified for Thursday’s debate did so by meeting criteria based on polling done by Emerson College Polling and KTLA’s parent company Nexstar Media Inc. Those results excluded Democratic hopeful and YouTuber Kevin Paffrath, who on Wednesday offered a $50,000 charity donation to participate.

Paffrath has emerged at the top, or in second place behind Elder, in recent polls released since the Emerson results that led to invitations to Thursday’s debate. He earned just 1 or 2% of likely voters’ support in the Emerson polls published by Nexstar stations on July 22 and Aug. 3, but saw 13% in a YouGov poll and 27% in a SurveyUSA poll since then.

The debate came as recall ballots began arriving for voters this week. Election Day is Sept. 14 but there are myriad ways to vote before then.

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