California Democrats have hammered the gubernatorial recall election as the illegitimate spawn of die-hard Trump Republicans, which means the left now has a Kevin Paffrath problem.
The 29-year-old real estate millionaire, whose financial education show is a YouTube sensation, stunned politicos by topping the recall field in an Aug. 4 SurveyUSA poll, promptly complicating the anti-recall message by offering voters a seemingly viable Democratic alternative to Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Mr. Paffrath’s rise makes it tougher to tar the recall as a right-wing plot, and Democratic voters may be less likely to obey the party’s pleas to ignore the second part of the ballot listing alternative candidates when they see the “D” next to Mr. Paffrath’s name.
Mr. Paffrath, who said he has been a registered Democrat since he was 18, called Mr. Newsom’s call for voters to leave the second question blank “just classic Gavin Newsom being selfish.”
“It is so stupid not to have a backup option,” Mr. Paffrath told The Washington Times.
“In my opinion, if the Democratic Party was wise and actually looked at these polling numbers showing that this recall is getting more and more likely, it would be very smart to ‘hail Mary’ endorse a backup Democrat,” he said. “We would be that person.”
Indeed, the California Democratic Party essentially cleared the field for Mr. Paffrath, who refers to his campaign as “we,” by ensuring that no Democratic politician ran as an option to Mr. Newsom in the Sept. 14 special election.
As a result, 46 alternative candidates are listed on the second question of the ballot — the first question asks whether Mr. Newsom should be recalled — but only nine are Democrats, and none, except Mr. Paffrath, is viewed as a serious contender.
Mr. Paffrath will be identified as a Democrat on the recall ballot. Mr. Newsom will not, thanks to a paperwork error by his campaign.
Mr. Paffrath may have been unknown to the political establishment, but he didn’t come from nowhere.
He has 1.69 million followers on his 4-year-old “Meet Kevin” YouTube Channel, where he dispenses financial advice and analysis on topics including real estate, markets and cryptocurrency.
“As a real estate broker, when I did that full time, I would teach people how to invest in real estate and how to build wealth,” he said. “That’s the concept of how I was able to get clients: Hey, let me help you build wealth and be more of a portfolio adviser on the real estate side. I took that to YouTube in 2017, and fortunately, it took off. People loved it.”
He has taken that message to the campaign trail. “The big thing for me is everybody should be on a path to building wealth. That’s actually what I think California needs as well,” he says.
That online presence helped boost Mr. Paffrath‘s name recognition despite his shoestring campaign — he has raised only about $400,000 — and let him emerge as the only Democrat registering on the recall polls.
He notched 3% of the vote in the University of California, Berkeley, Institute of Governmental Studies poll released July 27 but soared to 27% in the SurveyUSA poll for The San Diego Union-Tribune, placing him above Republican front-runner Larry Elder, who had 23% among likely voters.
Polls typically don’t list all 46 candidates, and Mr. Paffrath was listed as a Democrat in the survey for the San Diego newspaper.
“One thing about the polls is that they seem to only poll him, in terms of Democrats,” said Joshua Spivak, who runs the recall elections blog for the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College.
“They poll Larry Elder and Kevin Faulconer and Caitlyn Jenner and whoever else, and Kevin Paffrath is the only Democrat listed. That would skew it heavily,” Mr. Spivak said. “I don’t know if that’s the case with this poll, but if they ask about five Republicans and one Democrat, I’m not surprised that the Democrat is doing well.”
Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in California by a 2-1 margin.
The SurveyUSA poll also found that 51% of likely voters surveyed supported recalling Mr. Newsom while 40% opposed it and 9% were undecided. That means the recall is trending in the wrong direction for the Democratic incumbent.
Mr. Paffrath said his moderate message has resonated with Californians, including his push for “future schools” that teach financial education and other practical skills to position everyone from high schoolers to adults for middle-class jobs.
“We want to teach folks to be nurses, electricians, plumbers, contractors, whatever,” he said. “We want people to be able to go to these for two years and come out licensed and with some kind of hope of having a career that pays them $60,000 to $70,000 a year, because here’s the thing: If somebody has the skill set to make $60,000 to $70,000, they’re not on MediCal, they’re not on welfare, they’re not on Section 8, and they can actually build wealth.”
That hope even includes former prisoners.
If former inmates can build wealth, he said, “they don’t go back to jail. People come out of prison with no money and no skills, and nobody wants to hire them. So we’ve got to fix that.”
He said his top priority as governor would be to tackle the homeless crisis in his first 60 days and then push for a comprehensive legislative package that would address issues including crime, housing and education, which he sees as interconnected and related to homelessness.
“We’ve got to really stitch together a proper, massive legislative agenda to try to fix our state. Otherwise, we’re going to go bankrupt,” Mr. Paffrath said.
The question for the recall candidates becomes whether the Democratic supermajority would work with the governor if Mr. Newsom is ousted. Whoever wins the race will have to run again in November 2022.
Mr. Paffrath said he believes he has a better shot than the Republican contenders, who include Mr. Elder, a Los Angeles radio host, and reality-television star Miss Jenner, businessman John Cox, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Assembly member Kevin Kiley.
“Just practically speaking, there’s no way the Democratic Legislature is handing a win to a Republican before the election,” Mr. Paffrath said. “Whereas, hey, even though they may not have expected a replacement to Newsom, being a Democrat is out-of-the-gate someone that’s much easier to work with because the Democratic Party is still going to be seen as winning when progress is made.”
Not on board are state Democrats, whose message is to vote “no” on the recall and leave the second part blank.
“It’s simple: the California Democratic Party supports Governor Gavin Newsom,” the party tweeted. “There are no other candidates prepared to meet the challenges facing our state. Vote No on the first question. Leave the second question blank.”
Mr. Spivak said the Newsom-or-bust strategy might have its roots in the 2003 recall of Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, in which Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante ran as the just-in-case option on the ballot.
Mr. Davis was recalled, and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected as his replacement with 48.6% of the vote. Mr. Bustamante took 31.5%.
“They wanted a clear message [this year] on the recall,” Mr. Spivak said. “In 2003, the message for Bustamante was ‘No on the recall, yes on Bustamante,’ and it feels like it might have been confusing. You want that one statement for messaging purposes.”
Mr. Paffrath has been a burr in the governor’s side.
Instagram briefly censored him in May for calling Mr. Newsom a “weenie baby,” and he has shown up at Newsom events to draw publicity from the governor to his own campaign.
Mr. Paffrath acknowledged that Democrats are “not so happy” with his candidacy.
“They’re trying to brand this as, it’s either Newsom or it’s a Trump Republican. Which is to what you want to say in California,” Mr. Paffrath said. “That’s very juicy for the Democratic Party right now. It’s good marketing, but that’s where we screw all of that up.”