The Californian poll officially presented 46 candidates vying to replace Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom in an attempt to recall him. But in the end, the only one that mattered wasn’t even listed. Newsom managed to win by making the encore a race between himself and former President Donald Trump – and Trump was the one who failed on Tuesday night.
Trump’s inclusion in the race likely helped boost the score in favor of the incumbent as a last-minute reminder to potential voters why they should vote against Elder.
Officially, Newsom was in a duel with Republican radio talk show host Larry Elder, which the governor and his supporters focused on to make it a two-man contest after Elder edged out his competition in the polls. Elder was a familiar voice in Southern California as a longtime radio host in a place where car culture reigns supreme and many hear their news over their speakers. But Democrats have effectively described Elder as a Trump proxy, with President Joe Biden going so far as to call Elder “a clone” of the former president as he campaigned in California with Newsom in the closing hours of the race.
The California vote offers hope for Democrats trying to avoid losing the House and Senate majorities they hold by very thin margins, land gubernatorial positions and push Biden’s agenda forward. Newsom’s success in easily retaining the governorship validates the Democratic strategy of running anti-Trump campaigns over the next 13 months, even as Trump himself is back in Mar-a-Lago, Florida.
Democrats have been investing for months to tie congressional Republicans up and down the ballot to Trump, who left office with a dismal 34% approval rating. Their candidates for the House, Senate, and Governors repeatedly warn of unleashing the perils of Trump and Trumpism if voters back GOP rivals. The California results suggest that this effort may well pay off.
Beyond California, the strategy has manifested itself most strongly in Virginia, which, along with New Jersey, is hosting its election as governor this year. Former Democrat Gov. Terry McAuliffe is seeking a second non-consecutive term and has for months pounded his Republican rival Glenn Youngkin as “Glenn Trumpkin.”
Youngkin did not make much of his multiple backers from Trump, presenting himself instead as a successful businessman and political underdog. But whether Youngkin like it or not, Trump has entered the race. This includes a July 9 statement attacking McAuliffeas a “failed and unpopular governor” who has already received a $ 25,000 campaign donation from Trump.
Elder couldn’t escape Trump in California, suggesting that Youngkin won’t be able to either. Although Elder once called Trump “almost sent by God”, telling an audience of conservatives in 2019, “The election of Donald Trump in 2016, in my opinion was a divine intervention,” two years later , the candidate tried to talk about California problems. . Elder has not shied away from his past support for Trump during the recall campaign, but mostly only discussed it when reporters questioned him in interviews and otherwise appeared indifferent.
Certainly California is a flawed test case for the anti-Trump strategy. Democrats have a voter registration advantage of nearly 2-1, which has always made Newsom’s successful recall a daunting task. But the Trump-centric approach proved to be the catalyst for Newsom’s turnaround after facing what, at the end of July, seemed like a realistic chance to be recalled. At the time, a University of California, Berkeley / Los Angeles Times poll scared many Democrats by finding 47% of the electorate in favor of Newsom’s recall and barely 50% in favor of keeping it.
As Republicans hammered the governor daily over California’s response to Covid-19, rampant homelessness, and a slew of other endemic issues, the Newsom campaign began to focus almost entirely on the Elder connection. and Trump.
Elder, a first-time nominee, has also struggled with stories that he apparently failed to properly disclose his personal finances. And after more than 20 years hosting a daily three-hour radio show and writing provocative books, opposition researchers have struggled to unearth past comments that likely did not appeal to today’s voters. .
But Trump’s inclusion in the race likely helped boost the score in favor of the incumbent as a last-minute reminder to potential voters why they should vote against Elder. Trump himself probably didn’t help the cause when he said on the last day of the campaign that the contest was “probably rigged” and therefore Newsom would win – not exactly the kind of gesture to generate excitement for the vote.
Early voting in Virginia begins Friday, after an Aug. 31 poll by Monmouth University of registered voters gave McAuliffe a 47% to 42% advantage over Youngkin. Although Virginia is much less blue than California, the referendum result showed that Trump is still a motivator for Democratic voters. Not surprisingly, McAuliffe continued to rhetorically tie his opponent to Trump.
The leader of the Democratic Party also appears to see wisdom in the Trump-centric strategy. During a Monday night rally with Newsom in Long Beach, Calif., Biden frequently targeted his predecessor in the White House. “You all know last year I had to fight the real Donald Trump,” Biden said. “Well, this year’s leading Republican gubernatorial candidate is the closest thing to a Trump clone I’ve ever seen in your state.”
From Biden’s perspective, tying all of the Republican candidates to Trump has the added benefit of distracting from his own declining approval ratings. The chaotic exit of the US military from Afghanistan, the ongoing pandemic, and a host of other factors have put Biden on the defensive against Republican attacks.
That consideration, aided by the strong Newsom-favored recall results, means we should expect to hear waves of anti-Trump rhetoric much more often through November 2022. From the White House all the way down.