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California Democrats’ recall strategy gives birth to 29-year-old YouTube star

Democrat Kevin Paffrath speaks during a debate on the candidates for the California governor’s recall election on August 25. | Scott Strazzante / Getty Images



VENTURA, California. – YouTube star Kevin Paffrath is selling his dream of becoming a wealthy real estate investor, offering lifetime access to his “$ 0 for the Millionaire and Beyond” course for $ 915.

The 29-year-old political novice now asks California voters throw it on a similar trajectory.

Paffrath is the main Democrat in Tuesday’s governors’ recall election. But he only raised $ 450,000, in part from his own savings. He has no ground game to speak of, and his small campaign team operates out of his Ventura garage.

That he finds himself in the limelight is largely down to the California Democratic Party. Party officials discouraged more established names from entering the race, a gamble that left the Democratic field to win and some voters wondered how to answer the second question on the ballot: who should replace Governor Gavin Newsom if recalled.

Paffrath, who has managed to find his way to the public with an antagonistic social media presence and a healthy dose of ego, now finds himself with a chance to trap a huge percentage of votes from Democrats reluctant to leave the second question. on the blank ballot, as the Newsom team and other leading Democrats urged them to do. The result of the strategy: Democrats had to put up with weeks of vexatious antics from the fast-talking internet star. And rather than increase in the limelight, its YouTube subscribers have stagnated.

During his short campaign, Paffrath has threatened to sue CNN, chose a fight on Twitter with actor Stephen Colbert and antagonized Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.). He also adopted the unusual tactic of showing up at Newsom’s campaign events – dressed and ready for residual press attention – from which he claims he was rebounded more than once.

Paffrath pushes the boundaries for attention, from his attempts at humor to mind-boggling policy proposals that seem to be legally, logistically, or politically impossible, like solving the state’s water problems by building a 1,300-mile pipeline for Mississippi River. He joked last month that beating leading Republican candidate Larry Elder would constitute “elder abuse”; Days earlier, he posted a conspiratorial tweet about Newsom’s upcoming decision whether or not to grant parole to Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin, a post that was quickly cut.

This combative style was in full display when he first appeared in a debate last month, where as the only Democrat on stage, he practically shouted his ideas at the camera. That night he made the headlines for his idea of ​​the Mississippi River. He also criticized former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer failed real estate deals in the city and called on its Republican opponents give up the race.

“Since I sound the best of the candidates on this debate scene,” he said, pointing to a widely criticized poll, “I would ask them to step down from the race and support me, Kevin Paffrath, on the second part of the ballot. “

His performance clearly touched Faulconer’s skin. “This is not the time for on-the-job training for YouTube, someone who has never had to pass a law,” retorted the former mayor.

The SurveyUSA poll in early August that Paffrath was referring to – which found Paffrath leading all candidates with 27% support – ranked him as the only Democratic option alongside six Republicans. This methodology has been questioned by political observers who say he likely received support from some liberal voters on the sole basis of his party affiliation.

A pair of more recent polls published by SurveyUSA and Change Research, in which at least five Democratic candidates were listed, found lower support for Paffrath. He polled 6 percent in both polls, behind Elder’s 27 percent and slightly ahead of other Democrats.

Paffrath, a self-proclaimed centrist, has been a registered Democrat since he was of voting age. It promotes higher salaries for teachers and certain criminal justice reforms. But just like the campaign tactic of calling the incumbent Democratic governor “a selfish loser,” as he did last month, his platform includes proposals that most California Democrats wouldn’t touch.

He wants to allow gun owners to carry concealed guns and eliminate taxes on the first $ 250,000 of income. He also says he would use the National Guard to move all homeless people off the streets to emergency shelters within 60 days, an idea that ignores political, practical and legal realities.

Nor is he afraid to tap into media sources hated by the left or cling to their talking points about the deep blue state, its rising cost of living and its struggles against homelessness. The video announcing his candidacy features California clips from Fox News and conservative commentator Ben Shapiro.

Paffrath on his campaign website says he is a fiscal conservative and social liberal who considers himself “51/49 in terms of Democrat versus Republican”. He said his upbringing in Florida, where he spent much of his free time in high school following local police as a volunteer, shaped his policy.

On his popular YouTube channel, where he has amassed 1.7 million followers, he speaks directly to viewers in a style reminiscent of a CNBC host. Sometimes in a suit jacket, other times in a bomber jacket or hoodie, he spends his days talking about hot news or real estate deals. Although his channel has taken a political turn since he declared his candidacy, it is not uncommon for him to post several videos and live one-hour broadcasts a day with headlines like “The 5 best stocks in buy now ! ! leak reveals the truth | The failure of Afghanistan.

Paffrath said he understands some voters will dismiss his campaign as a marketing gimmick, but argues the race has been a financial drain on his business. The number of new subscribers to his YouTube channel “Meet Kevin” has stagnated in recent months after being on an upward trajectory since last May.

He said he plans to run again in 2022, regardless of the outcome of the recall.

“I could make a lot more money without running for governor,” he said in an interview last month at a park near his home. “I’m going to lose money being in office and I don’t even want to get the governor’s salary. I’m just trying to make California a better place for my kids.

One of her YouTube subscribers turned political supporters is Jason Kramer, a 50-year-old lawyer and registered Republican from Corona who donated $ 5,000 to the campaign in May.

Kramer said he first heard about Paffrath after discovering his YouTube channel and purchasing some of his online courses – which range in price from $ 628 to $ 1,627 – on topics such as real estate investing. . He said many of the candidate’s proposals resonated with him, even if they seemed far-fetched.

“He’s by far the hardest working person I know and really a very transparent person, and it would be great to bring him into politics,” Kramer said.

YouTube fans aside, Paffrath does not have the name recognition of an Elder, who spent decades as a conservative radio host in Southern California, or the reality TV star. and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner – who, despite having a strong name identity, struggles to gain traction in the race.

Paffrath also failed to submit a candidate declaration to the California Secretary of State, meaning he is not listed in voter guides.

His long-term gubernatorial candidacy seems less likely than ever, with recent polls showing voters rejecting the recall. The late approval of the “Hail Mary” he hoped to get from the Democratic Party as a backup option had yet to materialize six days before the election, and after millions of voters have already cast their ballot.

Paffrath calls on voters to revive his political career by putting him at the helm of a state of 40 million people, the world’s fifth-largest economy and a bevy of entrenched and often overlapping crises, from wildfires to the homeless. He’s never been in public office, or even tried, but he’s not interested in climbing the ladder.

“To make big changes, you need a strong leader,” he said. “And that’s why I believe for my visions of fixing California, the Governor is the only place you can be.”

Debra Kahn contributed to this report.

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