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Eight weeks out, California recall lacks the buzz of 2003 contest

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Gavin Newsom
California Governor Gavin Newsom talks during a news conference at Universal Studios in Universal City, Calif., on June 15, 2021.Ringo H.W. Chiu / AP

WASHINGTON — With 57 days to go until the election and with the official list of replacement candidates now complete, it’s safe to say that the 2021 California gubernatorial recall bears no resemblance whatsoever to its 2003 predecessor.

In 2003, then-incumbent Democratic Gov. Gray Davis’ approval ratings were in the 20s and 30s. In 2021, incumbent Gov. Gavin Newsom’s approval is in the 50s.

In 2003, the biggest celebrity running to replace Davis was Arnold Schwarzenegger. In 2021, the biggest celebrity is Caitlyn Jenner, who has been shooting a “Celebrity Big Brother” reality show overseas in Australia instead of campaigning for governor.

In 2003, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante was a prominent Democrat running to replace Davis. In 2021, of the eight Democrats on the official list of candidates, none is a current or former elected official.

In 2003, the other candidates running included child actor Gary Coleman, Arianna Huffington, the late Larry Flynt and former Major League Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth. In 2021, the other candidates include former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, 2018 GOP gubernatorial nominee John Cox, former Rep. Doug Ose — as well as real-estate YouTuber Kevin Paffrath and L.A. billboard queen Angelyne, who also ran in 2003.

And maybe most strikingly of all, the 2003 California gubernatorial recall was the marquee contest that year in the country, with it dominating the nation’s political news. By contrast, the 2021 race has been a relative snoozer, with it being overshadowed by rising Covid-19 cases, heat waves, the upcoming Olympics — and even New York’s mayoral race and Virginia’s gubernatorial contest.

Now that lack of attention could help depress Democratic turnout, which is how Republicans could defeat Newsom in this Dem-dominated state.

But more than anything else, the lack of interest just shows how strong Newsom looks right now.

Which is a significant difference from 18 years ago.

What we learned from last week’s FEC reports

One of us broke down the big headlines from last week’s second-quarter FEC reports, and here’s what we found:

  • Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., led the pack among incumbents raising money for their re-election, raking in $9.6 million and ending June with a $14.4 million warchest. Ohio Republican Mike Gibbons raised more than any other challenger with $6.2 million (but almost $5.7 million of that was in loans).
  • Not including personal loans, Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., raised the most of any Senate challenger with $4.7 million raised and $3.1 million in cash on hand. Her would-be GOP opponent (assuming she wins the primary, in which she’s heavily favored), Sen. Marco Rubio, also had a strong quarter and raised $4 million to leave his cash on hand at $6.3 million.
  • Other Senate incumbents who raised $2 million or more for the quarter: Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., ($7.2 million); Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., ($6 million); Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., ($3.3 million); John Kennedy, R-La., ($3 million); Catherine Cortez Masto, D-N.M., ($2.8 million); Rand Paul, R-Ky., ($2.7 million); Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., ($2.4 million); Alex Padilla, D-Calif., ($2.2 million); Patty Murray, D-Wash., ($2 million); and Todd Young, R-Ind., ($2 million).
  • Other notable hauls: Vulnerable Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. ($1.2 million); Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, ($1.1 million); Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, ($3.1 million); and Democrat John Fetterman ($2.5 million).

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

$1.5 million: How much one Texas Democrat estimates it will cost members of the state House to stay in D.C. through the end of the state’s special session in protest of a GOP-led bill adding new voting restrictions.

5: The number of Texas Democratic state House members who tested positive for Covid-19 after traveling to D.C.

39: The number of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay after the Biden administration transferred its first detainee from the detention center.

34,207,484: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 74,792 more since Friday morning.)

612,289: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 706 more since Friday morning.)

337,740,358: The number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S., per the CDC.

48.6 percent: The share of all Americans who are fully vaccinated, per the CDC.

59.4 percent: The share of all American adults at least 18 years of age who are fully vaccinated, per CDC.

Tweet of the day

Falling apart?

With Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer scheduling a procedural vote this week on the bipartisan infrastructure package, one key pay-for appears to be unravelling.

“The Republicans' lead negotiator for a bipartisan infrastructure bill said Sunday that lawmakers had dropped a proposal to boost IRS enforcement as a way to pay for the package,” per NBC News.

“Increasing IRS enforcement of tax collections to pay for the $579 billion bill had emerged as a point of contention among Senate negotiators, with many conservative anti-spending groups and lawmakers expressing concerns.”

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The Biden administration is blaming China for the recent Microsoft Exchange hack.

Los Angeles has enacted new mask orders amid another surge in Covid-19 cases.

Older people with serious medical conditions are at highest risk for severe breakthrough Covid-19 infections.

A new investigation by The Washington Post and 16 other media partners uncovered how private spyware has been used to hack the cellphones of journalists, activists, businesspeople and others

The Dallas Morning News is endorsing GOP state Rep. Jake Ellzey in the House runoff election over Republican Susan Wright, whose husband represented the area until he died this year.

Pollsters are struggling to explain how 2020 election polling went wrong.

The Wall Street Journal does a deep dive into the rift between President Biden and Facebook on Covid-19 misinformation.