SACRAMENTO – A Republican-led bid to recall Governor Gavin Newsom of California ended in defeat on Tuesday night, as Democrats in the country’s most populous state closed ranks against a small grassroots movement that s ‘is accelerated with the spread of Covid-19.
Voters have asserted their support for Mr Newsom, whose lead became insurmountable as the count continued in Los Angeles County and other major Democratic strongholds after the polls closed. Larry Elder, a conservative talk radio host, has led 46 challengers in hopes of becoming the next governor.
The vote spoke about the power Liberal voters wield in California: No Republican has held office in the entire state for more than a decade.
But it also reflected the state’s recent progress against the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed more than 67,000 lives in California. The state has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country and one of its lowest rates of new cases of the virus – what the governor tirelessly argued with voters was a result of his demands for it. vaccines and masks.
Although Mr Newsom’s detractors triggered the recall because they opposed his positions on the death penalty and immigration, it was the politicization of the pandemic that propelled her onto the ballot as Californians were impatient with the closures of businesses and classrooms. In polls, Californians have said no problem is more urgent than the virus.
“As a healthcare worker it was important for me to have a governor who follows science,” said Marc Martino, 26, who wore a blue lab coat as he cast his ballot. in Irvine.
The Associated Press called the race for Mr Newsom, who won a landslide in 2018, less than an hour after the polls closed on Tuesday. About 66% of the eight million ballots counted before 9:30 p.m. PT said the governor should remain in office.
Taken as an indicator for the 2022 midterm elections, the result was a relief for Democrats nationwide. Although polls showed the recall was consistently opposed by about 60 percent of Californians, polls this summer suggested likely voters were not enthusiastic about Mr Newsom. However, as the election deadline approached, its base mobilized.
President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota traveled to California to campaign for Mr. Newsom, while Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former President Barack Obama appeared in its advertisements. Some $ 70 million in contributions to his campaign came from Democratic donors, tribal and business groups and unions.
The governor accused far-right extremists and supporters of former President Donald J. Trump of attempting a hostile takeover in a state where they could never hope to gain majority support in a regular election. He also compared the low rates of coronavirus infection in California with the large number of deaths and hospitalizations in Republican-ruled states like Florida and Texas.
Election calculations did the rest: Democrats outnumber Republicans in California twice, and pandemic voting rules encouraged a high turnout, allowing ballots to be sent to all 22. million active voters registered in the state with prepaid postage.
Launched by retired Northern California Republican Sheriff Sergeant Orrin Heatlie, the recall was one of six Conservative-led petitions that began circulating in the months following Mr Newsom’s inauguration.
Recall attempts are common in California, where direct democracy has long been part of political culture. But only one other attempt against a governor qualified for the ballot – in 2003, when Californians recalled Governor Gray Davis following the 9/11 attacks, the dot-com collapse and blackouts. continuous electricity. They elected Arnold Schwarzenegger to replace Mr Davis as governor, substituting a centrist Republican for a centrist Democrat.
Initially, Mr. Heatlie’s petition struggled to gain traction. But it gained momentum as the pandemic swept through California and Mr Newsom struggled to contain it. Californians who initially supported the governor’s health orders grew weary of business and classroom closures, and public discontent boiled in November when Mr. Newsom was spotted without a mask at the French Laundry, an exclusive wine restaurant, after urging the public to avoid gatherings.
A court order extending the deadline for collecting signatures due to pandemic shutdowns allowed supporters of the recall to capitalize on outrage and unrest.
As the result of Tuesday’s recall election became apparent, Darry Sragow, Democratic strategist and publisher of the California Target Book, a non-partisan political almanac, said the governor had fought back “Republican aggression” and “could come out stronger. than ever, according to its margin.
Recall contributors also claimed some victory.
“We were David against Goliath – we were the Alamo,” said Mike Netter, one of the few Republican Tea Party activists whose anger at Mr Newsom’s opposition to the death penalty, his support for the workers undocumented migrants and his deep establishment roots helped inspire the eviction attempt.
Simply collecting the nearly 1.5 million signatures needed to call the special election was “a historic achievement,” Heatlie said.
The recall campaign, the two men said, expanded the small cadre that started the effort into a 400,000-member statewide coalition that is already helping push forward voting proposals to fund the school vouchers, ban school vaccination warrants and abolish public employee unions, which have been a long-standing Democratic force in California.
Other Republicans, however, called the recall a serious political miscalculation. About a quarter of the state’s registered voters are Republicans, and their numbers have been declining since the 1990s, a trend that is reminiscent of supporters believed it could be reversed if they could topple the nation’s largest state.
Rather, Tuesday’s defeat marked “another nail in the coffin,” said Mike Madrid, a Republican strategist from California who has sharply criticized the party under Trump, notably accusing the GOP of driving out Latino voters.
Mr Madrid said the recall meant that even in California Mr Trump’s party was now part of “an increasingly radical, exercised and shrinking Republican base, attacking in different ways in different parts of the country “. He took note of accusations of electoral fraud that some members of his party began to make long before the polls closed, echoing Mr. Trump, who claimed without evidence that Democrats had “rigged” the election. reminder.
Despite the yawning gap in support, for example, Mr Elder demanded this week, before the vote ended, that a special legislative session be called “to investigate and improve the twisted results.” He said there had been “cases of undocumented polls” but provided no examples.
Some Democratic observers were cautious, warning that the disruption caused by the recall effort portended deeper problems.
“This recall was a canary in the coal mine,” said Mr. Sragow, a seasoned Democratic strategist who cited state income disparities, housing shortages and climate crises. “And until the problems that created it are resolved, the people in power are in trouble. There is a lot of anger, fear and frustration out there.
Tuesday’s vote capped nearly a year of pressure from the governor to persuade voters to see beyond this obscurity. Since the start of this year, when it became clear that the recall would have the money and time to qualify for the poll, Mr Newsom has campaigned tirelessly.
Taking advantage of a huge state surplus – the result of higher-than-expected earnings gains and stock prices for affluent Californians – the governor acted aggressively to demonstrate that the state could both protect its economy and curb the virus. In recent months, he has rolled out vaccines, cleaned up trash in neighborhoods neglected by Californians blown by the pandemic, opened motel rooms to homeless Californians, announced stimulus checks and rent assistance for Poor and middle-class Californians and repeatedly stood in front of a golden lamé curtain to host one of the nation’s largest vaccine lotteries.
Past recall efforts informed his political strategy. Unlike Mr Davis, whose lieutenant governor presented himself as a Democratic alternative in the 2003 recall, effectively giving supporters permission to oust Mr Davis, Mr Newsom and his team quickly cleared the field of potential democratic alternatives.
Like Scott Walker, the former governor of Wisconsin and the only previous governor to win in a recall election, Mr Newsom described the recall effort in national and partisan terms and rejected a defensive posture. His strategy galvanized major donors and his base.
As in 2003, when he ran against a popular progressive for mayor of San Francisco, Mr Newsom presented the race not as a referendum against him but as a choice between himself and a potentially catastrophic alternative – in this case, Mr. Elder, whose name recognition quickly propelled him to the top of the challengers list.
Noting that Mr. Elder had built a career denigrating liberal causes, the governor described him as a Trump clone who would impose far-right policies on a state that has been a bastion of liberal thought.
“Vote no and go,” the governor told voters, suggesting that they stick to voting against his recall and even disregard the second question on the ballot, which asked who should replace Mr Newsom if the recall succeeds.
Republicans’ support and money failed to match Mr. Newsom’s Big Operation and War Chest.
California has no limits on giving to committees for and against recalls, but the state has caps on candidate contributions from individual donors. Mr Newsom capitalized on the rules, raising more than $ 50 million just in donations over $ 100,000 to oppose the recall. Mr. Elder raised around $ 15 million, let alone through committees promoting the recall.
Many major Republican donors have said it seems futile trying to recall a Democratic governor in such a largely liberal state.
Thomas fuller contributed reporting from Sacramento, and Jill cowan from Irvine, California.