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Newsom’s political fortunes rise amid California reopening

As Californians flocked to Universal Studios behind him, an unmasked and unusually jovial governor, Gavin Newsom, said on Tuesday that the state was reopened and finally ready to “turn the page” after a difficult year.

And as it ends COVID-19 restrictions, Newsom is doing its best to close the book on recall months ahead of the election.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Newsom was praised for its health-focused approach to governance. But muddled policies, school closures and his own damaging missteps, such as his French laundry dinner during the state shutdown, have frustrated even some of his most staunch supporters and ignited an angry bloc of voters. who had grown weary of his urgent use of executive powers.

Now his political fortunes are on the rise again.

Newsom is back in the limelight, but this time it is offering $ 1.5 million in cash prizes and free lottery vacations for vaccinated Californians instead of bleak news about infections and deaths. , and tell people what they can do instead of what they can’t.

“The recall has flourished because of the pandemic, and now it will wither from the pandemic,” said Democratic political consultant Rose Kapolczynski, who was the former chief campaign adviser to Senator Barbara Boxer. “At the end of the day, voters know the governor is not perfect, but he achieves what they want most, which is the reopening of the state.”

Given California’s low coronavirus infection rates and high vaccination levels, Newsom’s decision to lift the restrictions is likely to ensure that the blockages and political mistakes that helped fuel the dissent are erased in memories as voters go to the polls, according to political observers.

The reestablishment of the state, combined with Californians’ desire to take charge of their lives, is also draining the oxygen from the recall effort.

Newsom’s announcement in April of its intention to reopen California on June 15 drew mixed reactions from some who feared it would make a risky bet in a state that had already gone through the easing cycles and restoring restrictions, and others who expected increased vaccinations to help contain the virus before it expires.

Dr Robert Wachter, professor and chairman of the UC San Francisco department of medicine, said the Delta variant of the virus could lead to another jump in cases in the fall, but believes California is unlikely experiences the same type of flare-ups that followed earlier reopenings.

“Everything is calculated, I think it was a smart date and I think it worked out pretty well,” Wachter said.

Wachter and other health experts are giving California and its governor high marks for their leadership during the pandemic compared to other states.

California ranks among the bottom third of the nation’s states for COVID-19 per capita death rates, with death rates per 100,000 population lower than Florida and Texas, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I think the most important thing that happened was that it seemed like these were well thought out, science-based standards that took into account the best information we had at the time,” Wachter said. “Of course some people didn’t like it, but it saved a lot of lives.”

While the timeline seems to be working in Newsom’s favor, that doesn’t mean other unforeseen issues won’t arise.

“Sounds like it’s smooth sailing for Governor Newsom, but that could change,” said Darry Sragow, a seasoned Democratic strategist. “It could change very quickly. And he knows it. ”

A date for the recall has not been set, and Sragow warned that if Newsom’s advisers want to push for an earlier election, the late-summer schedule could affect voter turnout if parents are concerned. the return of their children to school. Less likely political dangers, such as a botched response to a natural disaster or massive power outages, or any other major governance failure, could present challenges.

The emergence of a popular Democratic opponent ahead of polling day could also shake up the race.

No well-known Democratic challenger has announced plans to run for governor. The state Democratic Party and the governor’s campaign have discouraged the idea of ​​a replacement candidate in their own ranks over fears voters would be more inclined to recall Newsom if another Democrat is on the ballot.

If Newsom is recalled and there is no popular Democrat replacement, Republicans could have a wide open path to the top California government post.

“If things go on autopilot, the governor will be fine,” said Robin Swanson, a Democratic strategist. “If there are adversaries or unforeseen events, then I think it could be more difficult.”

Orrin Heatlie, one of the main supporters of the recall campaign, said it would be a mistake to dismiss the festering animosity some California voters still have towards Newsom, especially over the closure of public schools and billions of dollars. taxpayer funds lost to the state by paying fraudulent unemployment claims.

Heatlie said he believed Newsom was throwing away millions of prizes to woo voters and keep Democrats in line.

“He’s running around like a mobster who distributes money to his loyal followers to try to win them over or maintain their loyalty,” Heatlie said.

He added that he thinks Californians still remember the economic devastation they suffered as a result of the lockdowns and now fear Newsom will impose vaccinations and order people to carry “vaccination passports” for them. prove they were vaccinated, which the governor repeatedly denied.

Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California, remains skeptical that Newsom’s strong support among California voters will wane ahead of the election. The vast majority of Californians have already made up their minds on Newsom, he said.

In the institute’s most recent poll released in May, 55% of likely California voters approved of Newsom’s job as governor, compared with 35% who disapproved of it. This is almost exactly Newsom’s position before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a PPIC poll released in February 2020.

Only 4% of California voters were undecided on what to think of Newsom in May.

The May poll was also bad news for supporters of the recall effort – 40% of likely voters supported Newsom’s impeachment, while 57% would keep him in power. Only 3% were undecided.

“The onus is on the promoters to give people a reason to make changes,” Baldassare said. “So far, based on our polls, they haven’t done so.”

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