But a recall election is an imperfect barometer, particularly of national trends. Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2 to 1 in California, so the results may not reflect on governors in scrap states or reflect how voters will judge members of Congress next year. That the unusual contest took place in the late northern summer meant some voters weren’t even tuned in.
Voters were asked two questions: Should Newsom retire, and if so, who should replace him? Only a handful of the 46 names on the replacement ballot had any level of public recognition, but most failed to attract voters.
Conservative radio host Larry Elder, who signed up for the race just three months before Election Day, quickly rose to the top of the pack. But that allowed Newsom to turn the campaign into a choice between the two men, rather than a referendum on their performance.
Newsom seized on Elder’s opposition to minimum wage and abortion rights as evidence that he was outside of California’s mainstream. The governor called him “more extreme than Trump,” while Biden called him “the closest thing to a Trump clone I’ve ever seen.”
Although the pageant didn’t bring the circus element of California’s impeachment in 2003, when voters replaced Democratic Governor Gray Davis with Republican movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger, it featured wacky moments of its own.
Reality star and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner entered the race but gained little momentum and left the state to take part in part of the campaign to film a reality show in Australia. Businessman John Cox, who lost a lot to Newsom in 2018, tried to spice up his campaign by hiring a live bear to join him, calling himself Newsom’s “beast” of “beauty.” The best-known Democrat on the replacement ballot was a 29-year-old YouTube star who provides financial advice to his followers.
Though Newsom defeated the impeachment, he may soon be running again against Elder: The governor is set for reelection next year, and the primaries, which include candidates from all parties on a single ballot, are only nine months away. away.
The recall, initiated by an amateur political organizer, was not the first attempt to overthrow Newsom and began as an expression of frustration over the control of the ruling Democrats. But when Newsom issued the first state stay-at-home order in the entire state, the pandemic became the driving force in the race.
Organizers of the recall needed about 1.5 million signatures (California has 22 million registered voters) to vote. They owe their success in part to a single day in November, when a judge gave them an additional four months to gather signatures due to the pandemic.
That same day, Newsom attended a birthday party with friends and lobbyists at the posh French Laundry restaurant, a gathering that violated his anti-pandemic rules. The episode turned into a public relations disaster.
Supporters of the recall expressed frustration over months of business closings, restrictions that kept most kids in distance learning for a full academic year, and the confusing patchwork of rules governing how people could meet with friends and family. Rising homicides, an ongoing homeless crisis and an unemployment fraud scandal further enraged Newsom’s critics.
But the general public stood by Newsom’s side. Polls from the California Institute of Public Policy showed that his approval rating remained above 50 percent during the pandemic. With weeks to go, the institute’s poll showed 60 percent of Californians approved of Newsom’s handling of the pandemic.
In the first months of his campaign, Newsom declared that California was “recovering” from the virus, and used a windfall of tax dollars to dole out billions for programs from early childhood education to the homeless. Low- and middle-income Californians received checks of up to $ 1,100 each ($ 1,500).
The emergence of the highly contagious delta variant over the summer clouded Newsom’s positive messages as he began to frame the race as one of the “life and death” consequences. He pointed to Texas and Florida, which were experiencing a worsening of the waves as their Republican governors rejected the masks and vaccines mandates as warnings about what California could become. When the new Texas law banning most abortions went into effect on Sept. 1, Newsom’s comparison to the Republican state became starker.
The Newsom administration has mandated that children wear masks in schools and requires all healthcare workers to be vaccinated. Teachers and government employees should be vaccinated or tested regularly. Ace Smith, one of Newsom’s political consultants, said before the race ended that he believed it would provide Newsom – and the Democratic Party – with a “clear mandate” of “sanity” in public health.
The main luminaries of the party joined Newsom, highlighting what is at stake at the national level. Beyond Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former President Barack Obama appeared in state or campaign ads to help Newsom increase turnout.
National Republican leaders largely kept the contest at a distance. Trump barely commented on the race until recent days, when he suggested without evidence that the results would be rigged due to the vote-by-mail. One of the original organizers of the retreat said his comments would do more harm than good.
In recent days, Elder’s campaign echoed Trump’s messages, saying he expected “shenanigans” and linking to a website that hinted that Newsom had already won the election due to fraud. The site included the text of a petition that was circulated to aid Trump’s effort to overturn last year’s presidential election, but that wording was removed Tuesday afternoon.
Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, once considered the party’s best hope for regaining state office given his track record in a Democratic city, was unable to find his niche among voters, struggling to attract both the party base and to the electorate in general. Elder immediately captured the attention of the party’s conservative ranks, but he also alienated independents and Democrats who may have considered voting against Newsom.
Newsom has been seen as a potential candidate for the White House since at least 2004, when he defied federal law to issue marriage licenses to LGBT couples as mayor of San Francisco. His victory maintained those prospects, though he will still have to sort the ambitions of Harris, who emerged in San Francisco politics alongside Newsom.
Newsom entered the contest with advantages: it was his whether he won or lost. California’s electorate is less Republican, less white, and younger than it was in 2003, when voters ousted Democrat Davis. Newsom was allowed to raise unlimited funds, dwarfing his competitors as he inundated television screens with advertisements. Public workers unions and business and technology executives invested millions in his campaign.
The Republican Party had sought to build on its four victories in Congress in 2020 and recruited tens of thousands more volunteers to campaign for retirement. Voter turnout and recall results in the four Southern California districts, in Orange County and the Los Angeles suburbs, will offer an early indication of the party’s ability to fill seats next year.