LOS ANGELES (AP) — Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer on Monday established a political committee to begin raising money for a possible run for governor, kicking off what could be a tumultuous year in California politics as Gov. Gavin Newsom faces the threat of a recall election.

In a brief statement on Twitter, the moderate Republican who served two terms in the Democratic-leaning city said there is “no better way to ring in the new year than taking the first step in turning around California.”

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Faulconer stopped short of formally declaring his candidacy, but by forming the exploratory committee he will be able to start collecting checks to help finance a potential campaign. In a tweet two days ago, he said, “We need a new governor. Jobs are leaving, homelessness is skyrocketing.”

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The move comes as supporters of a possible recall election aimed at the Democratic governor continue gathering the nearly 1.5 million petition signatures needed to qualify the proposal for the ballot. They have until mid-March to hit the required threshold.

Newsom political strategist Dan Newman said the governor remains focused on the coronavirus crisis and distributing vaccines while “Faulconer and other (President Donald) Trump supporters want California taxpayers to waste $100 million on a special-election redo,” shortly before Newsom is expected to seek a second term in 2022.

Newsom’s 2018 rival, businessman John Cox, also has said he is a likely candidate, whether in a recall or next year.

If the recall qualifies, Newsom would be forced to fend off rivals amid a pandemic that has cost the state millions of jobs and upended daily life for nearly 40 million residents. State rules are not specific on when the election would occur.

Newsom, who was elected in a 2018 landslide with 62% of the vote, has entered a difficult stretch in his tenure.

Last spring, Newsom received wide praise for his aggressive approach to the coronavirus outbreak, when he issued the nation’s first statewide stay-at-home order. But there has been growing public unrest over subsequent health orders that closed schools and businesses, and investigations continue into a massive unemployment benefits fraud scandal.

Meanwhile, Newsom faced a public outcry at the disclosure that he attended a dinner with friends at the opulent French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley after telling residents to spurn social gatherings and stay at home. Photos of the dinner — a birthday party for a Newsom confidante who also is a lobbyist — showed the governor without a mask at a time when he was imploring people to wear face coverings when around others.

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A Republican hasn’t won a statewide election in the heavily Democratic state since 2006, and registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in California by nearly 2-to-1. But a recall election could attract dozens of candidates who would cut up the vote and lower the percentage needed to win, a scenario that could provide an opening for a Republican candidate in the Democratic-dominated state.