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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

California's gubernatorial recall election has become a casting call for wannabes seeking a giant earned-media opportunity.

Why it matters: Some possible challengers to Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom are barely mounting a serious campaign. But politics as show business was a winning approach for Donald Trump, and marginal political aspirants appear to be following his lead.

  • For social influencers and others, the media spotlight is the Holy Grail — not Sacramento.
  • All it takes is a bit of paperwork and some lofty-sounding rhetoric about taking on the political machine.

The big picture: As the fight to recall Newsom heated up, California Republicans split on whether to get behind a single candidate. That reticence, insiders say, opened the door to long-shot candidates appearing to be using the race as a personal promotion vehicle.

  • "If it wasn't for this recall ... these candidates would be nobodies," Yolo County GOP co-chair Ray Perez said in describing some of the lesser-knowns.
  • Perez said he generally agrees with the state party's "free market, let-the-best-candidate-win" approach, but "it hasn't been producing us results, and something needs to evolve to get a better, robust candidate selection."

Between the lines: In a series of tweets this week, Perez singled out one candidate as emblematic: former Pasadena mayoral contender Major Williams.

  • Williams, a Republican, failed to qualify for the recall ballot, which the California secretary of state's office officially released last weekend.
  • State records show he hadn't even filed much of the paperwork required to earn a spot. Williams' campaign, which raised nearly $300,000, was "almost borderline fraudulent," Perez wrote.
  • In a series of Instagram posts this week, Williams blamed the paperwork errors on his staff and what he described as the forced closure of the campaign's bank account. He also announced his intention to run as a write-in candidate.

What Williams has already won is extensive earned media, particularly from conservative outlets. He even landed a coveted interview on the Fox News morning program "Fox & Friends."

  • Williams has continued asking for donations, even after being cut off by the online payment processor Anedot. "Our Accounts team became aware of certain information and closed the account,” an Anedot spokesperson told Axios.
  • Williams' campaign referred questions to statements on his Instagram account, in which he's denied he's in the race to boost his personal profile. "I don't want to be this social media influencer," he said in one video this week.
  • But he's turned to the influencer monetization platform Monytize, where Williams is now steering his social media followers. He's also selling merchandise at the website AmerciaForever.com, which says in a disclaimer, "This is a private, for-profit business. No allifiation [sic] with" the Williams campaign.

It's not just Republicans using the race to build a brand. The recall contest was sprinkled with other, more established social media personalities too.

  • Democrat Kevin Paffrath, a real estate agent, sued the California secretary of state to let him list the name of his popular YouTube channel, Meet Kevin, on the recall ballot. A judge shot down the request Wednesday, ruling that Meet Kevin was a "brand," not a name for legal purposes.
  • Mary Carey, a former adult film actress, built a huge Instagram following off of fame derived from her 2003 gubernatorial recall run. She ran again as an independent this year but failed to secure a spot on the ballot.

Even more serious contenders in the race have faced speculation they're using the recall to generate media interest.

  • Olympic gold medalist and reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner was recently reported to be campaigning with a film crew in tow, fueling speculation she could market her effort as a documentary series.
  • "As with any candidate that has done [so] in the past, there are cameras filming Caitlyn at certain big political events like CPAC," a campaign spokesperson told Axios. "There is no deal for any television show or documentary."

Conservative radio host Larry Elder entered the race just last week. When he failed to make the ballot, Elder sued California's secretary of state.

  • Meanwhile, he continued soliciting campaign contributions — and casting his exclusion from the ballot as political persecution.
  • "The radical Left is desperate to keep Gavin Newsom in charge. They are trying to rig the recall election by keeping me off the ballot for Governor of CA!" Elder declared in a round of social media ads this week.
  • On Wednesday he prevailed, and will have a spot on the ballot in September.

Go deeper

By the numbers: Who can be recalled

Expand chart
Re-created from Ballotpedia; Map: Axios Visuals

Gov. Gavin Newsom defeated the effort to recall him earlier this week — but there are 10 other states besides California allowing recalls of any elected state official.

The big picture: Officials across the U.S. have come under extra scrutiny for how they've handled the coronavirus and the 2020 elections in each state.

Sen. Padilla: Extreme weather events can change political discourse

Photo: Axios

Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) said at an Axios event Friday that extreme weather events may create political momentum to respond to climate change.

Driving the news: The deadly ice storm in Texas this winter that caused widespread power outages prompted Padilla to reach out to Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) to find ways to invest in the electrical grid, the California senator said.

Sep 17, 2021 - Axios Twin Cities

Police overhaul measure back on ballot as Minneapolis voters head to polls

Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Early voting begins in Minneapolis this morning, with a consequential question on the future of the police department back on the ballot.

Driving the news: In an eleventh hour ruling, the Minnesota Supreme Court overruled a Hennepin County judge's decision to strike the police charter amendment from the ballot over concerns that the language was too vague.

Why it matters: Question 2, which proposes replacing the Minneapolis Police Department with a new public safety agency that could include officers "if necessary," could fundamentally change public safety in Minneapolis by removing the minimum officer requirement and giving the City Council more say in police policies.

  • Supporters had argued that the judge's intervention subverted the will of the 20,000-plus voters who signed a petition to get the measure on the ballot.

What they're saying: Both supporters and critics of the proposal applauded the court's ruling.

  • "Voters can rejoice that their voice, their civic engagement, and their votes matter," a statement from the "yes" campaign read.
  • Mayor Jacob Frey, who opposes the measure, said the court made "the right call," saying residents "deserve the opportunity to weigh in this fall and bring this debate to a close so we can move forward with clarity for our residents' safety."

Between the lines: The fight over the measure is expected to attract national attention and major spending on both sides — opponents are launching their first TV ad.

  • That battle could impact turnout and the outcome of other local contests, including the mayor's race and competitive City Council match-ups.
  • Questions on city governance and rent control, as well as the Park Board and Board of Estimate and Taxation races, are also on the ballot.

Zoom out: It's not just Minneapolis. Early voting begins in dozens of municipalities and school districts across the state today.

  • Voters in St. Paul pick a mayor, school board members and face a rent control question of their own.
  • Contests elsewhere cover city government, school boards, tax levies and other local ballot questions.

Be smart: Absentee ballots can be cast in person, often at an early vote center or local election office, or by mail. Click the links for early voting sites across Hennepin and Ramsey counties.