Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom is fighting to save his job steering California, the nation’s most populous state
Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to volunteers in San Francisco, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. The recall election that could remove California Democratic Gov. Newsom is coming to an end. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu) (AP )
Voters to determine Gavin Newsom’s fate in recall election; ‘The Five’ react
Newsom, who was overwhelmingly elected governor in 2018 in the heavily blue state, is facing a recall sparked last year mainly over accusations that he mishandled his state’s response to the coronavirus, the worst pandemic to strike the globe in a century.
Ballots were mailed last month to California’s estimated 22 million registered voters and needed to be postmarked or handed in by the time the polls closed, at 8pm PT.
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Voters were asked two questions on the Newsom recall ballots.
The first question was whether the governor should be removed from office. If more than 50% support removing Newsom, the second question offers a list of candidates running to replace the governor. If the governor is recalled, the candidate who wins the most votes on the second question – regardless of whether it’s a majority or just a small plurality – will succeed Newsom.
At a stop Tuesday afternoon at a union hall in San Francisco, the governor defended his actions combating the COVID crisis and told supporters that “we cannot let that progress to be stalled. We cannot allow the economy, not just our public health, to be impacted by a wrong decision tonight.”
While the latest public opinion polls suggested that a majority of Californians likely to vote in the election opposed ousting Newsom, conservative talk radio host Larry Elder, the front runner among the 46 replacement candidates on the ballot, remained confident the governor would be recalled.
“I don’t think there’s going to be any question about this election,” Elder said Tuesday in an interview on Fox News’ “The Story.” “I think so many people are angry about all the issues… so many people are going to vote yes on the recall, there won’t be any question about the outcome.”
The recall push was launched in June 2020 due to frustrations by many Californians over the governor’s restrictive response to the coronavirus. The effort was fueled by the state’s COVID restrictions on businesses and houses of worship, school shutdowns and even opposition to the state’s high taxes.
The recall drive surged last autumn after Newsom’s dinner at an uber-exclusive restaurant, which – at best – skirted rules imposed by the governor to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The governor’s actions were widely perceived as hypocritical and the optics made Newsom look out of touch when many Californians were struggling.
State election officials announced in April that the recall effort had garnered more than the roughly 1.5 million valid signatures (the equivalent of 12% of the vote in the 2018 California gubernatorial election) needed to make the ballot.
California’s lieutenant governor announced at the beginning of July that the recall election would be held on Sept. 14. And the state’s Department of Finance estimated that it will cost $276 million to hold the election.
Newsom and his political team and allies spent the summer attempting to nationalize the recall drive by characterizing it as a Republican “power grab.” The embattled governor the past couple of months turned to well-known and influential Democrats and progressives – including Vice President Kamala Harris, a former U.S. senator and state attorney general in California, former President Obama, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts – to help inform and motivate California Democrats to vote.
The effort culminated with an election eve rally in the southern California city of Long Beach with the biggest Democratic surrogate of all – President Biden. “The eyes of the nation are on California because the decision you’re going to make isn’t just going to have a huge impact on California, it’s going to reverberate around the nation, and quite frankly — not a joke — around the world,” the president stressed.
The past two months Newsom has also spotlighted the coronavirus pandemic – the issue that last year sparked the recall effort – to tout his efforts to vaccinate Californians and warn about morbid consequences if a conservative Republican replaced him in running the state and quickly scrapped the state’s vaccine and mask mandates.
“This election is a choice about life and death,” Newsom charged at an event in the Bay Area with Harris last week.
The governor also repeatedly took aim this summer at Elder, who quickly became the front runner among the 46 gubernatorial replacement candidates on the recall ballot after jumping into the race in mid-July. Newsom compared Elder to former President Trump, who outside of his conservative base is very unpopular in California, a state he lost to Biden by five million votes last November.
Newsom emphasized last month that it’s “important to focus on Larry” because he argued that Elder’s “even more extreme than Trump in many respects.” And the governor told a crowd at a recent rally that while Trump was defeated by Biden in November’s presidential election, “we did not defeat Trumpism…it is still alive across this country.” And spotlighting his fight, the governor said “it has come to the state of California.”
Newsom’s strategy was simple – in the very blue state of California where Democrats vastly outnumber Republicans – a state he won election as governor by 24 points in 2018 – he and his allies acknowledged that they needed a strong turnout among Democrats and independents to counter Republican voters motivated to cast ballots in hopes of ousting the governor.
Republicans saw the recall election as their best chance to topple a politician who has never lost an election during his years as San Francisco mayor, California lieutenant governor and now governor – and their first chance to win a statewide contest since the 2006 gubernatorial reelection victory by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was a moderate Republican. Three years earlier, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis became only the second governor in U.S. history to be successfully recalled and was succeeded by Schwarzenegger, who won the recall election.
Eighteen years after Davis was recalled, the big question is whether history in California will be repeated.
Paul Steinhauser is a politics reporter based in New Hampshire.