From left, Republican candidates for California Governor John Cox, Kevin Faulconer, Kevin Kiley and Doug Ose participate in a debate at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021, in Yorba Linda, Calif. California Gov. Gavin Newsom faces a Sept. 14 recall election that could remove him from office. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Four Republicans hoping to claim Gov. Gavin Newsom’s job in a September recall election skirmished in their first debate Wednesday, labeling the incumbent Democrat a failure whose pandemic policies sent the state into a tailspin while hewing closely to familiar conservative themes.

There were a few sharp exchanges as candidates sought to distinguish themselves from their rivals, but much of the evening event amounted to a litany of complaints about Newsom and the Democratic-controlled Legislature and the progressive drift of the nation’s most populous state.

“This used to be the state where anyone could get ahead. Now it’s the state that many can’t wait to leave behind, and our soaring housing costs are central to that,” said Kevin Kiley, a state assemblyman who at 36 years old could become the state’s first millennial governor.

The stakes were elevated with mail-in ballots for the Sept. 14 contest going to voters in about two weeks. Polls suggest the race is growing tight, with Newsom’s once-comfortable edge slipping as coronavirus cases climb and mask restrictions return across much of the state.

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