The Issue Is: Highlights and analysis from the California recall debate

It’s been more than a year since the petition to recall Governor Gavin Newsom was approved for circulation. 1.7 million verified signatures, and 46 qualifying candidates later, we are now less than six weeks away from the September 14 election day.

In anticipation of the impending vote, this week FOX 11 and the Nixon Library co-hosted the first televised debate of the race. Four candidates, businessman John Cox, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, and former California Congressman Doug Ose taking questions from FOX 11 anchors Elex Michaelson and Christine Devine, syndicated radio host Hugh Hewitt, and former National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien.

RELATED: Gubernatorial candidates weigh in on important issues facing Californians

Following the debate, Michaelson was joined on The Issue Is by political reporters Carla Marinucci, of Politico, and Seema Mehta, of The Los Angeles Times, to break down the big moments, the state of the race, and what the closing weeks of the campaign have in store.



BACKGROUND: After more than a year of Zoom screens and social distancing, Wednesday’s debate not only brought the four Gubernatorial candidates together for an in-person debate, it also brought back the post-debate Spin Room. Marinucci and Mehta were backstage afterward, speaking with the candidates about their debate performances and the competition.

MARINUCCI’S CENTRAL TAKE: "I mean, look, they accomplished job one - they had to introduce themselves, all four, to California voters, particularly to Republicans, to fire up those Republican voters, to get them to sign that ballot when it comes in... They also did the other thing that was really important, bash Gavin Newsom for 90 minutes on everything from COVID to crime to homelessness, they needed to make the case against him, they certainly tried to do that…"



BACKGROUND: As the four GOP candidates took the stage Wednesday night, one leading candidate was missing, appearing instead at a fundraiser in Bakersfield. Conservative radio host Larry Elder has been polling atop the field since entering the race mere weeks ago, and is considered by many the likeliest to replace Newsom should the recall pass.

MARINUCCI’S CENTRAL TAKE: "In many ways, Larry Elder has been a gift to the Gavin Newsom campaign. It's been a way that he's been able to focus on one person, a talk show host, a conservative talk show host, who said some very controversial things in years in public life. They're going to tie him to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Bill O'Reilly, those shows that he's been on many times and made statements like reducing the minimum wage to nothing, getting rid of maternity leave, etc. They're already taking that and using it as ammunition against him…"

MEHTA’S CENTRAL TAKE: "I do think that it's been clear since he entered the race, which was only a couple of weeks ago, we've seen that he's totally fired up Republican voters, as well as donors, I mean, he's raised an enormous amount of money in a very short amount of time... That enthusiasm is on the Republican side. We don't know exactly how Democrats are going to increase the enthusiasm on their side. So there's a lot of unpredictability in terms of who's going to cast ballots. And Larry Elder certainly has captured the eye of the Republican voters since he entered the race…"



BACKGROUND: As signatures were collected the past year, Governor Newsom has been tight-lipped about the potential of a recall. This week, as election day approaches, and the polls tighten - one showing a 2-point margin for remain, another showing an 11-point swing in favor of removing - Newsom began to speak out against his competition more pointedly than ever.

MEHTA’S CENTRAL TAKE: "I just think we're going to see a much more active sort of campaign stance... I mean, he's already starting to draw a contrast with Larry Elder, which is notable because he hasn't really drawn a contrast one-on-one with any of the other candidates who are hoping to replace him…."

MARINUCCI’S CENTRAL TAKE: "Newsom has had to battle two things, a complacency and an indifference among Democrats. A lot of them saying 'this recall, it's never going to get through.' Are they going to avoid those ballots altogether? At this point, he has to fire up those voters.... It's now about turnout. He's got to get those people to sign the ballot…."



BACKGROUND: Despite a vote getting on the ballot, Democrats across deep blue California have long anticipated an easy victory in a potential recall. As the polls tighten, and as the Delta variant causes a rise in COVID cases, ensuing mask mandates, and potential new restrictions, some are starting to second-guess the ease at which Governor Newsom may defeat the recall.

MEHTA'S CENTRAL TAKE: "Six months ago there was just this feeling like 'everything's fine… COVID’S going to go away. Schools will be reopening. You know, this is going to be like a piece of cake.'... A lot has changed. First of all, the pandemic is so unpredictable, we have this new variant, people are being advised to wear masks again indoors. Are school children going to have to wear masks when they go back to school? But in the polling, we're certainly seeing the enthusiasm gap. Republicans are fired up to vote and Democrats are not fired up to vote. And if they don't vote, it could be really close... You know, Newsom and his allies made a decision to not have a prominent Democrat as sort of an insurance policy on that second question, the replacement candidate, and now I think there is some concern about was that the right strategy?…"

MARINUCCI’S CENTRAL TAKE: "They're starting to say 'maybe it's time to bring out the really big guns: Kamala Harris, Joe Biden.' Look, a lot is at stake for the Democrats here when you consider what's going on on the other coast - Andrew Cuomo, another big blue state governor in real trouble. Democrats can't afford to have that kind of situation as they're heading into 2022. Right now, the Governor needs to pivot and get out there with real people and make a really aggressive case, not fly so much above the fray, but get down and get dirty to fight this recall…"


The Issue Is: with Elex Michaelson is California's only statewide political show. For showtimes and more information, go to