Steyer polls the Newsom recall — offering himself as an alternative

The poll comes as 58 county registrars in California now work to verify whether the recall of Newsom has the 1.5 million valid voter signatures needed to qualify for a fall recall election. While Steyer opposes the recall, saying in a statement that it was “a clear attempt by the GOP to take back control of the state and squelch the progressive momentum,” he has been relatively quiet on the push. He has not tweeted about the recall and only once this year mentioned Newsom in a tweet: a thread tied to the governor’s State of the State address.

A Steyer spokesperson told a POLITICO reporter seeking to speak with him last week that they should check back in “late April.” The Secretary of State’s office says the deadline for registrars to validate signatures for the recall is April 29.

Steyer declined to comment. But a source close to him said late Tuesday that he would be “very, very surprised if he is looking at the recall ballot.”

Still, Steyer’s decision to poll himself as a possible replacement does suggest he’s entertained the possibility. At a minimum, it is one of the few concrete examples of a Democrat weighing the opportunities and landscape of a post-Newsom California. Antonio Villaraigosa, Newsom’s primary opponent in 2018, sidestepped questions about the recall, and has taken no formal steps to test his viability.

The feeling among political strategists and officials across the state is that many Democrats are waiting to see what Newsom’s political pulse will be by late summer, when they will have to decide whether to enter the race.

There is already speculation that there could be hundreds of candidates in the race because the steps to qualify are so low — only $4,000 or 7,000 signatures in a state with 39 million people. That’s the same threshold as 2003, when then-Gov. Gray Davis was recalled, and Arnold Schwarzenegger emerged from a field that included a child actor and adult film star.

Newsom’s team is warning Democrats not to break ranks with the governor, arguing that having even one serious contender from his party engaged in the election would offer a clear alternative to Newsom and give voters the incentive to vote for the recall.

Sean Clegg, a leading strategist for Newsom, issued a public rebuke of Villaraigosa recently, contending that the former mayor, who was his one-time boss, would “embarrass himself and forever poison his legacy if he runs.” And Clegg had another jab for Democrats taking aim at the governor in public. “No free shots on Gavin Newsom,” Clegg wrote on Twitter.

But that aggressive posture is worrying some Democrats.

Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, Newsom’s political mentor, said Democrats must “do everything they can to keep a recall from happening.’’ But if they fail, Brown added, the party must “absolutely” offer voters an alternative to Republicans who will stock the recall ballot.

“You can’t take the risk of Democrats losing the governorship,’’ Brown said in a recent interview with POLITICO. “You’ve got to literally protect it … and it may be that the Democrats you put in can announce they are totally opposed to the recall.’’