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The campaign to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom from office in a recall election saw a pair of competing glasses on Tuesday, as one Republican opponent posed for photos with a beefy Kodiak bear and another sought to capitalize on his celebrity status on national television.

Events have awakened what has so far been a silent march towards a historic recall election. Last week, election officials reported that supporters of the effort collected enough voters’ signatures to trigger a special election, giving voters the option to remove the governor and select someone to fill the year. remaining from his current term.

GOP hopeful John Cox, whom Newsom brilliantly defeated in the 2018 Governor’s Race, kicked off his ‘Meet the Beast’ campaign tour in Sacramento on Tuesday with a 1,000-pound Kodiak bear named Tag. The bear, Cox said, was emblematic of California’s need for a more aggressive leader on pressing issues than “pretty boy” Newsom, as he called him the governor.

Hours earlier, reality TV star and Olympic gold medalist Caitlyn Jenner posted a Hollywood-worthy campaign video describing herself as a “compassionate disruptor” and the only political foreigner capable of ending “the Gavin Newsom’s disastrous period as governor ”.

For its part, Newsom pointedly avoided responding to either of the contestants at an event in which the union representing California firefighters pledged to join the fight to keep him in his post during the event. ‘an election later this year.

He returned to a familiar theme in his remarks after receiving approval from professional California firefighters – namely that supporters of the recall election kicked off their efforts because of his stance on issues such as immigration. and taxes, not its handling of COVID. -19 pandemic.

“Read the petition. He doesn’t even refer to the pandemic, ”Newsom said. “These are the values ​​of this state. And that’s what’s really on the ballot.

Despite this, the governor acknowledged that the roughly 1.6 million voters who signed the recall petition were not all far-right activists. Supporters of the recall said Democrats have also joined in their efforts.

“I understand why people were signing something and the stress and the fear, the anxiety that we all faced last year,” Newsom said. “So my job is to regain that confidence.”

The political shock comes just over a week after Secretary of State Shirley Weber announced that supporters of the recall had collected enough signatures to force a special election by year-end and offer the first indication still of possible theaters to come.

It’s too early to say whether this recall attempt will rival the spectacle Californians saw in 2003, when Democratic Gov. Gray Davis was ousted from office. That year, more than 130 candidates hoping to replace Davis packed the ballot, including Hustler magazine founder Larry Flynt, “Diff’rent Strokes” star Gary Coleman and Hollywood action star Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was eventually elected governor.

But if the events of Tuesday are any indication, this recall campaign could be headed in that direction.

With the huge Kodiak bear roaming behind him, munching on chicken and cookies thrown by a trainer, Cox criticized Newsom as an elitist, accused him of being pampered by members of the wealthy Getty family and claimed that ‘ he was indebted to the special interests of Sacramento.

“Gavin Newsom, our pretty boy, has so angry and divided the people of this state that more than 2 million people have literally put their names online to remember him,” Cox told reporters, then watched the bear.

“This is why our friend is here today,” he said. “We’re going to need some big, bestial changes in this state.” We’re going to have to be tough as a beast to take on the special interest groups that have really run California for so long.

Cox, a Rancho Santa Fe businessman who made his fortune in Midwestern real estate investing, said he donated $ 10 million of his own money to his campaign.

He took his campaign theme to a new level in his new multi-million dollar ‘Beauty or the Beast’ ad campaign that he launched this week, in which he introduced himself as’ the cutest beast and the smarter California ”and Newsom as“ beauty ”- and it features his favorite Kodiak, Tag.

The ad is reminiscent of Republican Carly Fiorina’s infamous “demon sheep” ad produced for her campaign against Senator Barbara Boxer in 2010. The video featured a field of grazing sheep, believed to represent the fiscal conservatives, and a man in one. flaming red-eyed sheep costume that was supposed to represent his GOP rival, Tom Campbell.

Political advertising man Fred Davis, who was behind the demon sheep ad, now works for Cox.

Tag, the 9-year-old bear born in a private Ohio zoo, lives on a 60-acre ranch near Frazier Park and is no stranger to bright lights and cameras. He starred in the Paramount Network television series “Yellowstone” with Kevin Costner, a Rocket Mortgage Super Bowl commercial and the Apple TV series “See” with actor Jason Momoa, according to his trainer Keith Bauer.

Tag can eat up to 60 pounds a day, loves Walmart roast chickens and “has the personality of a golden retriever,” Bauer said ahead of Cox’s press conference Tuesday.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals on Tuesday criticized the Cox campaign for using the bear, saying it was exploitation and danger. Cox, however, said his campaign helped ensure the bear was well cared for before hiring the animal.

Cox and Jenner’s campaign videos blamed Newsom’s policies for hurting California during its nearly two and a half years in power, with homelessness and house prices rising and cities leveled by the forest fires.

Both grabbed Newsom’s faux pas in November when he dined at upscale French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley to celebrate friend and lobbyist Jason Kinney’s birthday at a time when he urged Californians to avoid gatherings outside the immediate family.

“We have closed businesses, we have kids who are always watching a screen, including my own 16 year old daughter. We envision another year of fires, shortages of energy, electricity and water. Homelessness is worse, taxes are skyrocketing, and the cost of living is skyrocketing, ”Cox said. “And then our handsome governor decides to go to the French Laundry restaurant and have dinner with lobbyists.

Newsom has repeatedly said that attending the dinner was a mistake.

The governor also urged Californians to look at his overall record. California now has the lowest COVID-19 transmission rate in the country and has provided more vaccines to residents than any other state. Newsom plans to fully open the state’s economy by mid-June and get children back to school by the start of the next school year.

It is unclear which candidates Newsom will face when the recall election takes place later this year. Candidates cannot formally submit their candidacy until the results of the petition signature collection effort are certified by the Secretary of State.

Voters who signed the recall petitions now have the option of asking election officials to withdraw their names until early June, a process some Democrats are trying to promote. Newsom stopped on Tuesday to endorse the effort, although he said he would not discourage voters from reconsidering their support.

“But we operate as if it is on the ballot,” the governor said. “And I expect it will be on the ballot.”

Times editor Maria L. La Ganga contributed to this report.

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