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California Gov. Newsom faces recall campaign over coronavirus restrictions

California Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomBeyond California, a record year for recalls Texas governor signs bill to allow college athletes to profit off name and likeness The Hill's Morning Report - Biden on Putin: 'a worthy adversary' MORE (D) is facing a recall effort over the state's COVID-19 restrictions and his apparent flouting of the safety measures at an upscale restaurant last month.

The Associated Press reported Monday that the campaign to recall Newsom and trigger a special gubernatorial election is gaining steam. Organizers told the AP they have about half of the 1.5 million signatures needed by March. Such campaigns often aim higher than the required number of signatures in the event some are thrown out.

The last successful California recall effort was in 2003, which threw Democrat Gray Davis out of office and resulted in the election of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R).

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While Newsom won widespread praise this spring for a health order that shuttered much of California in an effort to step the coronavirus pandemic, angst has been growing over recent directives that reimposed closures of businesses and schools and put some areas under a stay-at-home order.

Anger also grew in recent weeks after it was reported that Newsom attended a birthday celebration at the prestigious French Laundry restaurant amid the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

In a statement, Newsom apologized last month for attending the event, explaining that he thought the gathering would be smaller when he initially agreed to attend.

“I made a bad mistake,” Newsom said in November. “The spirit of what I’m preaching all the time was contradicted."

Even as Newsom faces the recall effort, he also has the opportunity to reshape California politics for a generation by appointing people to two, and possibly three, high-level positions.

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He must fill the Senate seat vacated by Vice President-elect Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisDemocrats learn hard truths about Capitol breach Harris calls for pathway to citizenship for Dreamers on DACA anniversary Abbott says he'll solicit public donations for border wall MORE, as well as choose the state's next attorney general if Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraFeehery: It's for the children New Alzheimer's drug sparks backlash over FDA, pricing Obama joins Biden to tout record ObamaCare enrollment numbers MORE is confirmed to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. Newsom may even get a third vacancy to fill if, as many expect, he chooses Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D) to replace Harris.

Newsom's office did not immediately return a request for comment from The Hill on the recall effort.

The chair of California's Democratic Party told the AP in a statement that “the California Republican Party continues to demonstrate how disconnected they are from the plight and pain of working families.”