Voters would be asked two questions: Should Mr. Newsom be recalled, and if the recall passes, who should complete his remaining year or so as governor.
For now, fellow Democrats have closed ranks around Mr. Newsom, flanking him at appearances and lavishly praising his handling of the pandemic. The Biden administration, too, has come to the governor’s aid, with the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, emphasizing this month that President Biden “clearly opposes any effort” to recall the governor.
The governor himself has avoided the “R” word. “I’m focused on the vaccine issue,” he recently told reporters who asked about the recall effort. Mr. Newsom’s team, however, has noted that recall attempts are not unusual in California: petitions for removal from office have been filed against every governor in the last 61 years.
Only one recall has succeeded — in 2003, when post-9/11 fears and rolling blackouts stemming from energy deregulation helped Republicans persuade voters to fire Gray Davis and hire Arnold Schwarzenegger, who subsequently faced his own blitz of attempted recalls.
Dan Newman, a political adviser to Mr. Newsom, pointed out that after the 2003 petition qualified for the ballot, 135 candidates ran, including Arianna Huffington, the former child star Gary Coleman and Mary Carey, then an actress in pornographic films. “Some people estimate we could have 10 times as many candidates as in 2003,” he said, noting that such a special election would cost an estimated $100 million.
Already three Republicans — Kevin Faulconer, the former mayor of San Diego; the conservative activist Mike Cernovich; and John Cox, who lost to Mr. Newsom in 2018 — have announced plans to challenge the governor, and Richard Grenell, who was former President Donald J. Trump’s acting intelligence chief, would not rule it out in a recent appearance on Newsmax.
But the recall effort also has tapped into a broad, bipartisan unease as the virus has claimed some 50,000 lives in the state. Through the pandemic, Californians have glimpsed their governor not just as the fortunate son of their state at the top of its game, as he was when he was elected, but also as a pale-faced, all-too-human guy trying to remain calm on a livestream.