SACRAMENTO (AP/CBS13) – California Gov. Gavin Newsom established a political committee Monday to begin raising money to defend his seat in a potential recall election, the strongest acknowledgment to date that he expects to be on the ballot this year.

“I won’t be distracted by this partisan, Republican recall — but I will fight it,” Gov. Newsom tweeted Monday morning. “There is too much at stake.”

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The Democrat’s new fundraising arm could soon send a powerful message to his possible rivals: Under state rules, Newsom alone is allowed to raise money in unlimited amounts, while other candidates must adhere to contribution limits.

It’s likely he will soon see a flood of cash from his familiar Democratic constituency, including powerful public worker unions that spent millions of dollars helping install him in office in 2018.

Organizers behind the recall say they have collected over 2 million petition signatures to place the election on the ballot – about 1.5 million are needed for it to qualify, though hundreds of thousands have yet to be validated by election officials.

Newsom has lined up support from state and national Democrats to defeat the campaign against him. The committee kicked off it’s drive with an advertisement attacking the recall effort as a Republican power grab.

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker said in a statement released by the committee that Newsom’s leadership during the pandemic “kept Californians safe and helped them recover financially.”

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Defeating the recall “will be one of the most important priorities for Democrats this year,” he said.

Democrats have depicted the recall effort as seeded with extremists. However, recall organizers say 38% of petition signatures have come from independents and Democrats, but that could not be immediately verified.

For months Newsom sidestepped questions about the recall but more recently has started to ramp up his political operation and strategy.

He’s been traveling the state holding events to highlight coronavirus vaccinations, while a string of supporters have started staging online news conferences in an attempt to turn public favor his way.

The governor made his most direct comments to date on the recall Friday in an interview with KQED, depicting the effort as a challenge to his administration’s progressive policies, not a reaction to his leadership during the pandemic that has claimed over 55,000 lives in California.

“It’s about immigration. It’s about our health care policies. It’s about our criminal justice reform. It’s about the diversity of the state. It’s about our clean air, clean water programs, meeting our environmental strategies,” he told the San Francisco news station.

Newsom received high praise for his aggressive approach to the coronavirus last spring, when he issued the nation’s first statewide stay-at-home order. But in more recent months he’s faced growing public anger over health orders that shuttered schools and businesses and a massive unemployment benefits fraud scandal, while taking a public drubbing for attending a birthday party with friends and lobbyists at the exclusive French Laundry restaurant, while telling residents to stay home for safety.

Two Republicans have announced their candidacy: Kevin Faulconer, the former Republican mayor of San Diego, and Republican businessman John Cox, who was defeated by Newsom in 2018. Another name being discussed in GOP circles is former President Donald Trump’s then-acting director of national intelligence, Richard Grenell, who has not responded to requests for comment on a possible candidacy.

It’s not uncommon in California for residents to seek recalls but they rarely get on the ballot – and even fewer succeed.

Asked about what direction the governor should take in light of the potential recall, Dee Dee Myers, director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, said “as a governing strategy and as a political strategy, I think the governor just needs to do his job.”

“He just needs to get up every day and do what he’s been doing, which is get vaccines distributed … continue to invest in our business and help them recover and get kids back in school,” said Myers, a former Warner Bros. executive who earlier served as former President Bill Clinton’s first White House press secretary. “I think that’s the path forward for the state to get through this and I don’t think anything else matters that much.”

“It’s been a tough year for everybody,” she added in an interview last week. “Some people are frustrated.”

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Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.