Californians split over Newsom recall: poll

California voters are narrowly divided over whether to recall Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomAppeals court blocks California vaccine mandate for prison workers Apple, Nordstrom stores hit in latest smash-and-grab robberies Ted Cruz ribs Newsom over vacation in Mexico: 'Cancun is much nicer than Cabo' MORE (D) as he moves to bolster his standing ahead of an almost certain election later this year. 

A new poll conducted by Emerson College for Nexstar Media, which operates six television stations in the state, found 42 percent of voters in California would vote to keep Newsom in office, while 38 percent would vote to recall him. Forty-five percent approve of Newsom’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, while 44 percent disapprove, the poll found.

Nearly 9 in 10 Republicans, 86 percent, said they would vote to recall Newsom. Just under two-thirds of Democrats, 66 percent, said they would vote to keep him. Independents narrowly favored replacing Newsom, 39 percent to 35 percent. 

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Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in California by a nearly two-to-one margin, with independent or minor party voters making up about a quarter of the electorate.

Supporters of an effort to recall Newsom have collected more than 2 million signatures, more than the 1.5 million they would need to qualify for the ballot. Signature gatherers in California routinely collect hundreds of thousands more autographs than they need to account for those that will inevitably be rejected. 

Newsom has begun preparing for a recall election, and for his own reelection bid next year. He used his annual State of the State address last week to preview the message he will deliver to voters in the run-up to the election.

“We won’t change course just because of a few nay-sayers and dooms-dayers,” Newsom said during the address. “So to the California critics, who are promoting partisan power grabs and outdated prejudices, and rejecting everything that makes California truly great, we say this: We will not be distracted from getting shots in arms and our economy booming again. This is a fight for California’s future.” 

Newsom and his allies on Monday launched a new effort to push back against what they describe as a Republican power grab, after the Republican National Committee donated to the recall campaign. The Newsom team rolled out a website featuring testimonials from allies in California, like Sen. Alex PadillaAlex Padilla91 House Dems call on Senate to expand immigration protections in Biden spending bill Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall Historic immigration reform included in House-passed spending bill MORE (D), and some of the best-known names in the Democratic Party, including Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersRestless progressives eye 2024 Key senators to watch on Democrats' social spending bill Five ways Senate could change Biden's spending plan MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenRestless progressives eye 2024 Poll: Harris, Michelle Obama lead for 2024 if Biden doesn't run Biden eyes new path for Fed despite Powell pick MORE (D-Mass.) and former Georgia state Rep. Stacey Abrams (D).

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And the California Democratic Party said Monday it would invest an initial $250,000 campaigning against the recall.

But history is not on his side. The only other California governor ever recalled, Gray Davis in 2003, lost his job. Four of the last five recall elections in California have succeeded.

Newsom has begun loosening restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic as case counts have ebbed after California’s horrible winter surge. About 70 percent of schools in California have announced plans to reopen by mid-April, and about half the state’s counties have moved out of the most restrictive tiers of lockdown. 

Newsom supporters say the comparisons to Davis’s recall election are unfounded. California is a much more Democratic state than it was 18 years ago. The legislature earlier this year passed a measure ensuring every registered voter would get a mail-in ballot, substantially aiding Democratic efforts to boost turnout in what might otherwise be a low-participation election.

And there is no single candidate on the ballot to galvanize Republicans, like Arnold Schwarzenegger did in 2003. Two Republicans — former San Diego Mayor Kevin FaulconerKevin FaulconerFinal California recall count shows Newsom with tally identical to 2018 Republicans trapped in a media prison of their own making Seven takeaways from California's recall election MORE and businessman John Cox — have said they will run, while former U.S. ambassador Ric Grenell, a close ally of President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer defense secretary Esper sues Pentagon in memoir dispute Biden celebrates start of Hanukkah Fauci says lies, threats are 'noise' MORE, is contemplating a bid.

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Democrats have rallied around Newsom, and no prominent Democrat has put their name on the ballot in case the recall succeeds. In 2003, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (D) put his name on the ballot. This year, Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis (D) said any Democrat joining the race would be “shameful.”

Most Californians, 57 percent, said the state was headed in the right direction, a positive sign for Newsom. But just 42 percent said Newsom deserves reelection in 2022, when his term expires, while 58 percent say it is time to elect someone new.

The poll, conducted among 1,045 registered voters March 12-14, carries a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.