A dispatch from Orange County, where four candidates vying to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom squared off in a debate.,

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Four of the 41 people running against Gov. Gavin Newsom took the stage for a debate Wednesday: from left, John Cox, Kevin Faulconer, Kevin Kiley and Doug Ose. Credit…Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

YORBA LINDA — Last night was the first debate in the effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom, an election that could significantly reshape the future of California.

But the governor declined an invitation to attend the event, held at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library.

Also missing: Caitlyn Jenner, the best-known candidate running to replace him, and Larry Elder, the conservative talk show host who’s the leading challenger in the polls.

That is perhaps not surprising in California, a state where political apathy runs high and voter turnout is low. It’s typical to hear that people don’t know that Newsom is facing a recall, let alone the names of his challengers.

On Wednesday, just four of the 41 people running against Newsom did take the stage: the former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer, the former Republican representative Doug Ose, State Assemblyman Kevin Kiley and John Cox, who unsuccessfully ran for governor against Newsom in 2018.

The wide-ranging debate covered drug cartels, the coronavirus, education, wildfires, housing, cancel culture and more. The common theme? Newsom’s failures.

Ose explained delays in state unemployment payments this way, though it could have been an answer to any question, delivered by any of the candidates: “This really does lay right at Governor Newsom’s feet.”

The California Recall Election

Understand the Recall Election: These 12 questions help explain the historical, political and logistical forces behind the effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom of California.How Gavin Newsom Got Here: The campaign to recall the state’s governor shows that even a one-party stronghold like California can be rocked by the nation’s political polarization.Campaign Qualifies for Ballot: The 1.6 million voters who signed a petition for the Republican-led recall effort have 30 business days to ask to have their names removed if they so choose.The Pandemic’s Impact on the Election: The recall has highlighted the differences between the powerhouse California that elected Gavin Newsom and the virus-battered California he now governs. And it has raised a question for all governors: Are 2020’s leaders still what is needed in 2021?

For 90 minutes, the candidates heaped criticism on Newsom’s policies in front of an audience of dozens of maskless people. (While Los Angeles County has a universal indoor mask mandate, Orange County does not. Seeing that many bare faces took me aback at first.)

Cox said he opposed the vaccine mandate for state employees that Newsom recently imposed. Ose objected to mask mandates. Faulconer said he didn’t support teaching critical race theory in schools. Kiley spoke out against vaccine passports and offering cash prizes to people who get their shots.

“It’s a perfect case study for the perversity of California politics,” Kiley said.

The debate felt more like a G.O.P. primary than a debate in the California governor race, and not just because the candidates were Republicans.

Just outside the debate room, black-and-white photos of Nixon flanked the walls. A bronze bust of the former president watched passers-by. In one corner, a machine advertised that it could stretch a penny into the shape of Nixon’s face.

Toward the end of the debate, the candidates touched on a favorite criticism of Newsom — that people are moving out of the state. California’s population dropped last year for the first time in more than a century.

“People are voting with their feet,” Faulconer said. “The reality is that we have a governor who doesn’t seem to think it’s a problem.”

Faulconer asked the audience to give a show of hands if they or someone they knew were thinking about leaving California. Several people raised one of their hands into the air.

Ose raised both.

For more:

Newsom and his allies have raised more than $51 million to fight the recall, more than twice as much as every major Republican candidate and pro-recall committee combined, The Los Angeles Times reports.

In a recent interview, Elder said that if elected, he would abolish the minimum wage. “The ideal minimum wage is $0.00,” he said, according to The Sacramento Bee.

Newsom’s biggest challenger may be apathy among Democrats, The Los Angeles Times reports. Though Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly two to one, more Republicans may show up to the polls on Election Day.

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A saguaro skeleton in Saguaro National Park in Tucson.Credit…Cassidy Araiza for The New York Times

If you read one story, make it this

My colleague Simon Romero’s latest article explores the threats facing the saguaro cactus, the majestic symbol of the Southwest. Desert plants are designed to survive tough conditions, but wildfires, climate change and urbanization may be too much for this cactus.

The rest of the news

California

Water curtailment: Amid an ongoing drought, thousands of Californians, primarily farmers, will be barred from using stream and river water. However, water for drinking, bathing and domestic purposes won’t be subject to the restrictions, The Los Angeles Times reports.

Vaccine mandate: Kaiser Permanente, the Oakland-based health care giant, has ordered that all employees get the Covid-19 vaccine, The Sacramento Bee reports.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Drinking at the Rose Bowl: The Rose Bowl in Pasadena will sell alcohol at U.C.L.A. football games for the first time since 1989, L.A. Weekly reports.

Sailor charged with arson: Ryan Sawyer Mays, a 20-year-old junior enlisted Navy sailor, was identified and formally charged with arson for starting a fire that destroyed a warship at a Navy base in San Diego last year.

Night market: Steve Lopez, a columnist for The Los Angeles Times, makes a case for shutting down the Lincoln Heights night market, saying it’s become a “nightmare” for neighborhood residents.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

Breakthrough infections: At least 233 new Covid-19 infections were recorded among staff members at U.C.S.F. and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, according to The SFist. Eighty percent of infected individuals had been vaccinated, but only two vaccinated staff members were hospitalized.

Star restaurants: Ten Bay Area eateries have been named “new discoveries” by the Michelin Guide, The Mercury News reports.

Farmwork in the heat: David Bacon photographed the daily work of farmworkers in the San Joaquin Valley. Summer is the season with the most demand for field labor, so the workers, mostly immigrants, have no other choice but to work, reports Capital & Main.

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Credit…Dylan Wilson for The New York Times

What we’re eating

It’s cucumber season. Make some quick pickles.

Where we’re traveling

Today’s California travel tip comes from Mike Meko, a reader who lives in Arroyo Grande. Mike writes:

We recently traveled to Lassen National Park and really enjoyed our three days exploring the park. It was beautiful and uncrowded. We hiked for two of the three days and only met a few other hikers on the trail. We wondered why there were so few people there as well as why it took us so long to discover this amazing place.

Tell us about the best hidden gems to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more hidden gems in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Comedian Minhaj with two Peabody awards (5 letters).

Steven Moity and Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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