Californians will decide on Tuesday whether to keep Gavin Newsom in power as a recall election that has left the Democratic governor fighting for his political life draws to a close.
The governors’ recall effort is closely watched across the country for its national implications. As only the second recall in California history, the election represents a rare chance for Republicans to take control in a deep blue state.
Voters are asking two questions: Should Newsom be removed from office and, if removed, who should take his place?
Millions of Californians have already voted, either by mail or at early voting places, in a special election costing the state $ 276 million. Meanwhile, voters in person took to the polls on Tuesday from top to bottom of the state. Polling stations close at 8 p.m. local time.
Newsom, who has been a hugely popular governor since being elected in 2018, found himself in a special position after a Republican-led recall effort gained momentum amid the worst of the state’s pandemic .
He looked confident heading into the home stretch, spending Monday campaigning with Joe Biden. Polls that had flagged him in peril over the summer recently gave him a more comfortable lead. Meanwhile, the main Republican challenger, right-wing radio host Larry Elder, has laid the groundwork for disinformation to falsely imply that the election, if he loses, was rigged against him.
Speaking to Newsom in Long Beach on Monday, Biden warned that the outcome of the recall race could reverberate well outside the Golden State.
Calling Elder “the clone of Donald Trump,” Biden asked, “Can you imagine him as governor of this state? You can’t let this happen. There is too much at stake.
“The eyes of the nation are on California,” he added.
More than 40 contestants are running against Newsom, including reality TV star and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner and YouTube personality Kevin Paffrath.
Early returns show that among those who have already voted, most are Democrats likely to oppose the recall. More Republicans are expected to vote in person on election day.
No major Democratic candidate is running against Newsom, who has encouraged his supporters to leave the question of his replacement blank on their ballots. If even a hair’s breadth of over 50% of voters choose to launch Governor, Elder or any other challenger with a plurality could take office and turn politics upside down in a majority Democratic state.
Such an outcome would spark national reverberations by placing a potentially antagonistic Republican leader as the head of the country’s most populous and economically productive state, and potentially condemning Democrats ahead of the midterm elections.
Elder held his closing rally in Orange County, where he urged supporters to contact their friends and neighbors to vote. The GOP will need a heroic election day turnout to catch the Democrats, who have mailed out greater numbers. Nearly 8.6 million of California’s 22 million voters have already voted by mail.
“Make sure your friends vote, vote, vote and try to get 10 other friends to vote and answer every call, make every call, knock on every door. We’re going to win this thing if we vote, ”Elder said from a hotel ballroom in Costa Mesa.
The implication that a Republican could topple a Democrat in deep blue California would raise criticism that the party is out of touch with voters. An upheaval in the Golden State “could also encourage potentially nationwide recall elections,” said Mindy Romero, who heads the California Civic Engagement Project at the University of Southern California.
After initially dismissing the recall as a Republican-led distraction, the Democrats and Newsom’s campaign has pivoted in recent weeks to characterize it as a referendum on Trumpism in California, with “life or death” consequences. Meanwhile, prominent Democrats in California and Washington DC, including Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar, Progressive Representatives Barbara Lee and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Vice President Kamala Harris, all came in. help Newsom.
Elder, on the other hand, laid the groundwork for disinformation to falsely imply that the election, if he loses, has been compromised. The radio host recently claimed that “shenanigans” could skew the race results, echoing Donald Trump’s baseless allegations of electoral fraud in the 2020 presidential election. There was no evidence confirmed of widespread fraud. Yet Elder’s campaign website was already linked to a “Stop CA Fraud” site where people could sign a petition demanding a special legislative session to investigate the “twisted results,” days before the results were announced. .
Elder has pledged to remove mask and vaccine requirements, calling for a reminder of donors whose efforts gained momentum last winter amid the state’s worst pandemic wave, which has forced businesses to close and keep public schools closed. Among those who support the recall, 38% of likely voters said they preferred Elder, in a UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll released on Friday. Former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer, a moderate Republican whom the Los Angeles Times called a “less bad option” to replace Newsom, on the other hand, was only supported by 8% of likely voters.
During election rallies, Newsom stressed that his first lockdown measures and his first statewide mask mandate for schools had saved lives. But the governor is still struggling to overcome several missteps: Under Newsom’s watch, the state’s unemployment service has faced large backlogs, while paying about $ 31 billion in fraudulent claims. The state’s rollout of the vaccine was initially chaotic and slow, leaving behind some of the most vulnerable frontline workers.
An untimely, lobbyist-laden dinner at the Michelin-starred French Laundry restaurant, and the governor’s choice to send his own children back to private school before many public schools reopened, heightened residents’ frustrations. Meanwhile, after California’s worst year of wildfires on record in 2020, and as catastrophic fires continue to blaze statewide, Newsom has tried to allay concerns it has vastly overestimated the effort. prevention of forest fires.
Voters who remained lukewarm on Newsom said they still saw it as the best of bad choices. “I’m with a lot of people who might like to remember Gavin, but who aren’t necessarily sympathetic to Larry Elder being there,” John Friedrich, a retiree living in Stockton, Calif., Said about an hour away. south of the capital. , Sacramento.
“All kinds of things happened last year – just devastating things,” he added. “Any governor would have a tough job. “
The Associated Press contributed reporting