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5 takeaways from Newsom’s California recall election victory

A recall campaign that at one point seemed poised to upend Democratic politics in Sapphire Blue California ended Tuesday with the status quo preserved, as Gov. Gavin Newson handily pushed back an effort for the oust from office.

Strong GOP representation at the polls on election day could not match Democratic dominance in early voting. Over the summer, Democrats’ concerns that their party voters were more apathetic than highly motivated Republicans resulted in a torrent of television spending and outreach efforts to every part of the mainstream Democratic coalition, including including workers, minorities and women.

The emergence of conservative talk radio host Larry Elder in July provided the perfect foil for Newsom. The governor went from dismissal as a naked Republican takeover to a one-on-one contrast with Elder, his decades-long record of inflammatory remarks and his plans if elected.

The result was that the California electorate returned to form and voted as they did in the recent gubernatorial election, giving the Democrat a double-digit victory, with nearly 60% of the vote counted.

Newsom’s mandate

A key question is how Newsom will act following the recall. Will he be emboldened by his victory, or will he be humbled by the fact that Democrats had to spend tens of millions of dollars to ensure he retains his seat, in a state where his party benefits? of an advantage of 5 million people in the registration on the electoral rolls?

Newsom’s large margin of victory gives the governor a mandate to continue pursuing liberal policies on issues such as healthcare, climate change and immigration.

Roger Salazar, a Democratic consultant who served as press secretary to former Governor Gray Davis, said he expects Newsom to focus on homelessness, crime, wildfire preparedness and the pandemic by next year’s elections.

“All of these things are all tied to an economic recovery that he’s going to want to make major strides on as he faces re-election. It goes from election to election almost instantly, ”said Salazar.

The big lie – Californian version

Republicans – including former President Trump and Elder – sought to undermine the integrity of the recall before voters went to the polls on Tuesday by claiming the election was rigged.

“Does anyone really believe that the California recall election is not rigged?” Trump said in a statement.

There are multiple verification processes to prevent fraudulent votes, and there is no evidence of cheating, but some Republicans are laying the groundwork for baselessly contesting the election results if the recall fails.

“They are trying to throw battery acid on our Constitution, on our electoral standards,” Newsom adviser Sean Clegg said on Monday before a rally in support of the governor with President Biden. “And that’s a taste of the attractions to come. We’re going to see the same thing in 2022 and the same thing in 2024.

Some Republicans speculated that such baseless claims suppressed voter turnout on Tuesday. Others, including former state GOP chairman Ron Nehring, said the message played into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to undermine American democracy.

“False allegations of election rigging are also bad policy, because they provide an excuse not to build a bigger campaign or a bigger party,” tweeted Nehring, who backed former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer at the time. recall elections.

The COVID-19 Paradox

The pandemic put Newsom in danger, but it also saved him. And COVID-19 could provide a roadmap for Democrats as they head towards the midterm elections. Biden leaned heavily on Newsom’s handling of the pandemic on Monday to say the governor should not be recalled.

“We need courage. We need leadership, ”he said, urging California Democrats not to be complacent. “We need Gavin Newsom, a governor who follows science and had the courage to do the right thing.”

The initial recall petition had nothing to do with the pandemic, but the restrictions put in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus – coupled with the additional four months given to donors to collect signatures – made the difference in qualifying of the effort for the ballot.

Then, after most Californians were vaccinated, the Delta variant appeared. California’s infection, hospitalization and death rates are lower than in states where leaders have pushed back mask and vaccination warrants. Newsom used this disparity to argue that if the recall was successful and he was to be replaced by a Republican – especially Elder, who had pledged to revoke those restrictions – Californians would die.

Larry Elder’s Limits

There is some logic to this: if an action movie star could be elected governor in the 2003 recall election, why not a radio host in 2021?

But as Elder’s fame propelled him to the top of contenders in hopes of replacing Newsom, his candidacy pointed out its shortcomings. A first-time candidate, he must have explained years of provocative on-air commentary, and he has shown little ability to garner support beyond the state’s conservative flank.

Newsom was only too happy to stand against Elder, but Trump was hiding in the subtext of those attacks. In a state that rejected Trump by nearly 30 percentage points in 2020, associating Elder with the ex-president was an easy way to rally Democrats against the recall. If Elder is to remain politically relevant, he will have to find a way to reach voters who are not Trump fans.

The California Republican Party did not back Elder (or any other candidate) in the recall, but his future will be closely scrutinized. This race was the party’s best chance in a statewide election for more than a decade due to the lower threshold to win the post: While more than half of voters had backed the recall, the the best voter among the 46 replacement candidates would have become governor, regardless of the number of votes that person received.

Going forward, the State Party will focus on an area where it had success in the last elections: congressional races. Indeed, much of the party’s effort in the recall has focused on the districts it hopes to hold or overthrow next year.

Reform reminder

Even before the votes were cast, this recall election sparked calls for reform of California’s electoral rules. Critics argue that it’s too easy to qualify a recall for the ballot, and that the two-question format – which places both the recall question and a list of replacement candidates in front of voters simultaneously – is confusing.

Among the proposals put forward is an increase in the number of signatures required to place a reminder on the ballot; under the current rule, 12% of the voter turnout from the previous governor’s election is required, a rate that is among the lowest in the country.

It is also envisaged to allow recalls only in cases of criminal conduct or wrongdoing, to add the candidate affected by the recall to the list of replacement candidates and to ask the Lieutenant Governor to assume the position if a recall of governor is successful. Another proposal is to split a recall into two special elections – one asking if an elected official should be ousted and, if successful, a separate election on the replacement candidate.

Darry Sragow, Democratic strategist and publisher of the non-partisan California Target Book, said he believes the recall process needs to be fixed, but is skeptical that reforms will eventually be made.

“Voters like to have this direct democratic control over what is otherwise a representative democracy,” he said – especially in Western states, where there is a longstanding culture of distrust of government. .