California sets rare governor recall election for September
California Governor Gavin Newsom (AFP)

The fate of California's governor will be decided by voters on September 14 in a rare recall election to be held in the most populous and wealthiest US state, officials announced Thursday.

Voters will decide whether Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, should be only the second sitting state governor ousted during his term, after Arnold Schwarzenegger came to power by the same route almost two decades ago.

A Republican-backed petition secured enough signatures to trigger the vote back in April, but the timing of the recall election had been under debate.

"Although the window of time from which I could select a date was narrow, I believe we have chosen a fair and reasonable date for this election to take place," said California Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis in a statement.

"It has always been my intention to choose an election date that gives election officials and the public ample time to ensure a smooth election with broad participation.

"Conducting this election on September 14 fulfils my statutory requirements, and provides the time needed for officials to prepare and inform voters."

The September dates means a tight turnaround for rivals wishing to throw their hats in the ring.

Some 57 percent of likely voters surveyed in May said they would vote to keep Newsom, according to the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Approval of Newsom's handling of the pandemic among likely voters shot up from 50 percent in January to 61 percent in May, the PPIC found.

The gulf between registered Democrats and Republicans in liberal California has more than doubled in percentage terms since Schwarzenegger's victory in 2003.

No prominent Democrats have yet signaled an intention to run.

Newsom has decried the recall bid as the work of anti-vaxxers and QAnon conspiracy theorists, but enraged some including Republicans and small business owners with California's strict and lengthy Covid restrictions.

But he is currently riding high on the state's massive vaccine rollout and recent economic reopening.

The first US state to enact a stay-at-home order 15 months ago, California celebrated its "reopening day" in mid-June by lifting almost all pandemic-related social distancing and capacity limits.

The vote will be only California's second-ever governor recall election, and the fourth in US history.

Voters will be asked if Newsom should go, and who they want to replace him if he does.