OAKLAND – Gov. Gavin Newsom opened a huge lead in early returns on Tuesday night as California decided to oust the Democratic governor in the state’s second recall election.
With more than 5.2 million votes counted, 69 percent rejected the recall compared to 31 percent in favor, according to results released shortly after the polls closed at 8 p.m. Pacific time. It was still too early to call the race, as county election officials still have millions of additional ballots to process and report.
Democratic voters dominated the more than eight million returned ballots before election day, likely building up a substantial cushion for Newsom as they returned the ballots at a faster rate than Republicans and independent voters. But political experts were expecting a belated increase in pro-recall ballots from Republicans who waited until election day to vote because they are wary of the postal process.
A recent series of polls suggest Newsom is set to beat the recall by a double-digit margin, but Democratic turnout has emerged as a key variable. Although there are about five million more registered Democrats than Republicans in California, Tories initially reported higher levels of enthusiasm – a disparity that could allow Newsom’s opponents to narrow its advantage.
But late election polls also found that gap was closing, and Newsom has repeatedly claimed in recent weeks that his campaign has succeeded in activating more Democratic voters. Newsom responded to the recall by relying on an array of deep-pocketed defenders to stockpile a campaign war chest with some $ 70 million, giving it an unparalleled ability to communicate with voters. He also enlisted national Democratic figures like President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders.
Newsom also tapped into the rise of libertarian talk show host Larry Elder, who quickly rose to the top of the Republican pack. Newsom has relentlessly hammered Elder for beliefs at odds with the California Democratic electorate, such as his opposition to abortion rights, minimum wages, and climate change programs. He introduced Elder as an heir to former President Donald Trump – an argument Biden amplified in an election night speech posing the election as a choice between Newsom and Trump.
This dynamic has left Newsom’s advisers extremely confident, enough that Senior Assistant Sean Clegg told reporters on Monday that “there is no scenario where we lose.”
Newsom’s argument that the recall was a costly distraction in the service of a larger Republican agenda seemed to resonate.
“I think it’s ridiculous that we need a booster, personally. Governor Newsom isn’t perfect, but it’s a tough time, it’s been a stressful year and a half, and I think he has guided us through a pandemic, “40-year-old Hollywood resident Chris Ciccarelli said, adding that he was forced to vote in person on Tuesday after receiving a text from the Newsom campaign. “What is going on in Texas, I don’t want that to happen here, and it makes me very angry when I can see that there are forces at work that are trying to reverse the progress that we have made. . “
But Stephen Polillo, a 39-year-old water utility operator from south Sacramento, said he voted for Newsom’s impeachment despite being a registered Democrat. He felt the recall effort was fueled by legitimate grievances about Newsom, not “Trump’s right to attack a liberal state,” as the governor and his supporters have repeatedly asserted.
Even before the polls closed on Tuesday, Republicans braced for a loss. Elder questioned the integrity of the ballot election and launched a website that solicited affidavits attesting to voting irregularities. He declined to say whether he would accept Tuesday’s results when asked by MSNBC this week.
Other Republicans were concerned that Elder’s allegations of electoral fraud would only serve to reduce the GOP’s turnout at the last minute. Ron Nehring, adviser to Republican candidate Kevin Faulconer, tweeted that Elder’s website was “the most irresponsible act I have ever seen from a CA candidate in my 20 years in politics “and said the allegations of vote rigging were” tantamount to telling Republicans to throw away their ballot rather than mail it.
The prospect of recalling Newsom once seemed like a political fantasy, as activists file recall petitions against every sitting governor, but only qualified one governor election in 2003, when movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger took office.
But the pandemic has reshaped the political landscape in California. The governor’s Tory enemies exploited pervasive frustration over Newsom’s state shutdown last winter and were given an additional four months to collect signatures after a Sacramento judge agreed to donate more time in because of the challenges of Covid-19. In November, Newsom boosted the signing campaign with his ill-fated decision to celebrate a lobbyist friend’s birthday at an opulent restaurant even as he urged Californians not to congregate.
Republicans grabbed the French laundry meal to castigate Newsom for being offline. They have sought to stir up anger at prolonged school closures and devastated businesses to claim Newsom’s mismanagement has caused lasting damage. The effort began to gain national attention as it emerged Republicans might have a real chance of reclaiming the governorship and breaking a long-running losing streak in once-purple California.
Shortly after supporters of the recall gathered enough signatures to qualify the election, a declining virus and a recovering economy put Newsom back on solid footing. California’s mass vaccination program helped reduce infection rates to the point that Newsom was able to dissolve a county-by-county restriction system on June 15. converted into taxpayer rebates.
In the summer, Newsom had embarked on a sort of victorious tour. He touted the California rebirth at triumphalist press conferences that also served as campaign events, and he acted as a game show host at glitzy lottery events that offered vaccinated Californians the chance to win prizes.
This upward trajectory led Newsom to convince the legislature to move the election date forward to mid-September, believing the electorate would be in good spirits. The Delta variant threw a wrench into that plan, spiking virus rates to the point that counties reimposed mask requirements and Newsom made vaccinations or negative tests mandatory for state employees, teachers and health workers.
But rather than avoiding the kinds of restrictions that initially propelled the recall, Newsom leaned into them. He made his final argument a matter of pandemic contrast, posing a choice between the strict California rules – which Republican candidates have pledged to unravel – and the looser approach taken by Texas and Florida.
Alexander Nieves and Colby Bermel contributed to this report.