Newsom easily beats back recall effort in California
California voters soundly rejected an attempt to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Tuesday in a historic rebuke that amounted to a ratification of Newsom’s aggressive approach to combating the coronavirus pandemic.
With 59 percent of the vote tallied in an election conducted almost entirely through the mail, just 33 percent of voters supported recalling Newsom; The Associated Press projected the recall would fail.
“I want to focus on what we said yes to as a state,” Newsom said in remarks after the election results were called. “We said yes to science. We said yes to vaccines. We said yes to ending this pandemic. We said yes to people’s right to vote without fear of fake fraud or voter suppression.”
“I’m humbled and grateful to the millions and millions of Californians that exercised their fundamental right to vote and expressed themselves so overwhelmingly by rejecting the division, by rejecting the cynicism, by rejecting so much of the negativity that’s defined our politics in this country over the course of so many years,” he continued.
Supporters of the recall gathered more than 2.1 million signatures to force an election, after a state judge granted them an extension because of the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic, and the lockdowns Newsom ordered, fueled the anger that bolstered the signature-gathering efforts.
But Newsom’s response to the pandemic also undergirded a summer rebound that led to his victory. The race to inoculate Californians against the coronavirus made the state one of the most vaccinated in America, while stimulus measures passed by the Democratic-controlled state legislature sent recovery checks to small businesses and low-income residents just as ballots hit mailboxes around the state.
Polls showed most California voters favored the types of vaccine and mask mandates that Newsom has imposed, and Newsom’s paid media had emphasized the contrast with his opponents — and chiefly conservative radio host Larry Elder (R) — who were critical of the mandates. More than 83 percent of Californians have already received at least one dose of the vaccine, one of the highest rates in the nation.
“This is becoming the vaccinated versus the unvaccinated, and a majority of voters are vaccinated. So the math isn’t hard to do,” Rob Stutzman, a Republican strategist who worked for Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) during the last recall of a California governor, in 2003, said before the last ballots were cast.
In the ballot’s second question, on which candidate California voters favored to replace Newsom, Elder led the field with 43 percent of the vote. Kevin Paffrath, a Democrat, trailed with 11 percent.
Though registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in California by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, Democrats and Newsom backers had been concerned from the beginning that apathy among their voters — and excitement among Republican voters — could doom Newsom’s chances.
Newsom’s campaign launched a massive get-out-the-vote effort, partnering with labor unions, Hispanic and Asian American outreach organizations to drive voter participation.
Newsom campaigned alongside some of the Democratic Party’s leading voices, including President Biden, who appeared in Long Beach on Monday, and Vice President Harris, a fellow San Francisco native who rose through the political ranks alongside the now-governor.
An anti-recall committee run by Newsom’s team vastly outspent Republican proponents of his removal, blanketing airwaves in the months before the vote with contrasts between Newsom’s efforts to stem the pandemic and Republicans he tried to tie to former President Trump. The Democratic Governors Association spent $7.4 million defending Newsom through the anti-recall committee.
Newsom’s allies in the legislature provided a crucial assist earlier this year, when they mandated that all voters be sent mail-in ballots for any elections conducted in 2021 — including the recall.
“The bet was always that the recall proponents would have the energy and interest on their side, and that Democrats would be less inclined in a special election,” said state Sen. Josh Newman (D), a Newsom backer. “I think everybody having ballots and their postage paid was a great equalizer.”
Those efforts paid off: Summer surveys showed just over half of Democratic voters were very interested in the recall election, while nearly 9 in 10 Republicans were paying close attention. By the closing days before Tuesday’s election, 8 in 10 Democrats were engaged, according to a poll conducted by the University of California, Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies.
“The election in its final weeks became more than just an election or a recall of Gov. Newsom. It really frightened voters, especially Democrats, that there was a lot at stake here,” said Mark Di Camillo, the poll’s director.
More than 7.7 million voters, or about 35 percent of California’s overall electorate, had returned their ballots through Saturday, according to tallies by Political Data Inc., a California-based firm.
Newsom was the second governor in California history to face a recall vote, and the first to survive one. He is only the second governor in American history to beat back a recall vote, following former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R).
The results are a huge boost to Newsom ahead of his expected reelection bid next year. He will begin as the overwhelming favorite for a second term, and several of his most likely challengers — including former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R) and businessman John Cox (R) — will now have to convince donors that they can reverse their lackluster performances during a regularly scheduled election.