State Watch

California Democrats warn of low turnout in recall election

California Democrats in Congress are keeping a close eye on polls that show Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) narrowly fending off a recall campaign amid concerns that Republican voters are disproportionately likely to be interested in casting ballots that would kick him out of office.

In interviews this week, Democrats cast the recall as a Republican power grab, one that will cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars to administer just a year before Newsom faces voters at the end of his first term — but one that Newsom could ultimately lose.

“I see a real scenario where the governor loses if people don’t come out and vote, if Democrats stay home, if Democrats underestimate the power of fake news, you know the power of rumors. We cannot stand still. I think we should have learned that with Trump,” said Rep. Norma Torres (D).

Polls show most California voters oppose recalling Newsom from office, but by a narrowing margin. Among those who are most likely to cast a ballot in the Sept. 14 recall, the margin is even closer — a poll conducted for the University of California-Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies found the recall trailing 36 percent to 51 percent among registered voters, but by just 47 percent to 50 percent among likely voters.

Though Democrats outnumber Republicans by about a 2-to-1 margin, Republican voters are far more likely to say they are excited to vote in the recall.

“These results make plain that the big question surrounding the recall will be whether the Newsom campaign and Democratic activists are able to get Democratic voters more engaged and interested in voting in September,” said Eric Schickler, the poll’s co-director.

Getting out the vote, especially among Democratic voters, is going to be key to Newsom’s survival.

“The campaign needs to get going, and it’s good for the governor to hear that, get him out more and start taking this more seriously,” Torres said.

Newsom’s campaign has begun spending money on paid advertisements, the latest featuring Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Vice President Harris, a close Newsom ally from their days coming up through San Francisco politics, has said she will campaign for the governor.

“It’s going to be a very tight race,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) told The Hill. “I think people realize this is not a slam dunk.”

He just has to focus on turnout. And I think he has to speak to the progressive base,” Khanna said. “He’s got to make sure the progressive base really turns out.”

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) criticized rules that allow any politician’s opponents to force them back on the ballot with such a relatively small number of signatures. Newsom foes collected more than 2 million signatures to qualify the recall election, more than the roughly 1.5 million they needed.

Two of the last three Dem govs have gone through this. It’s costly for the state when we need to be helping people, you know, affected by COVID,” Swalwell said in an interview. “He’s going to survive it, but I do hope that long term the bar is not so low to spend $200 million for a partisan recall.”

Tags California recall election COVID-19 Elizabeth Warren Eric Swalwell Gavin Newsom Norma Torres Ro Khanna

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