(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — Voters who haven’t already cast their ballots by mail head to the polls Tuesday to weigh in on whether they would like to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Californians are faced with a two-part question — if they would like to recall Newsom and who they would like to replace him with. If more than 50% of voters say he should be recalled, he will be replaced with the highest vote-getter in the recall field, which consists of 46 candidates.
This is the fourth time in the nation’s history that voters have had an election to recall their governor, and only one governor has been recalled in the last century. In 2003, Democratic California Gov. Gray Davis, facing extremely low approval ratings, was recalled and replaced with former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
This time, Republicans have a crowded primary field and, before nationally syndicated conservative radio host Larry Elder’s entrance into the race, the field was without a clear leader.
Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer was once thought to be the front-runner and is seen as the moderate in the race. Businessman John Cox, who was the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee in 2018, campaigned across the state with a live bear and an 8-foot ball of trash. Reality star and Olympic gold medalist Caitlyn Jenner entered the recall field, although she spent some time out of the country in Australia, reportedly filming a celebrity edition of a reality show.
Although numbers appear to be in his favor, Newsom recruited some of the biggest Democratic heavy-hitters to stump for him, including Vice President Kamala Harris and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. President Joe Biden hit the trail with Newsom to close out his campaign in Long Beach, California, on Monday night.
“This is not hyperbole. The eyes of the nation are on California because the decision you’re about to make isn’t just going to have a huge impact on California, it’s going to reverberate around the nation, and quite frankly not a joke around the world,” Biden said Monday.
According to a recent poll from the Public Policy Institute of California, Newsom’s approval rating is sitting at 53%, and 58% of voters said they do not want him to be recalled. In 2003, exit polls showed Davis’ approval rating at 26% — a stark difference from where Newsom is today.
Historically, gubernatorial recalls produce similar vote margins for the governor holding office as they had in their last election, according to recall expert and senior fellow at Wagner College, Joshua Spivak. Gray Davis got 47% of the vote in 2002, and 44% in 2003 when he was recalled. In Wisconsin in 2010, Scott Walker was elected with 52.2% of the vote, and defeated his recall with 53.1%.
In 2018, Newsom won the state with 61.9% of the vote to GOP nominee John Cox’s 38.1%. In 2020, Biden carried with a similar margin, 63.5% of the vote to Trump’s 34.3%.
Democratic voter registration in the Golden State largely outpaces that of both Republicans and independents, putting Newsom at an advantage. So far, Democrats are leading both groups combined when it comes to returning their ballots: Democrats have returned nearly 4.1 million compared to the 3.8 million Republican and independent ballots that have been returned, according Monday data from Political Data Inc.
Democrats have attempted to nationalize the race to increase enthusiasm, warning of lawmaking similar to that of Republican-led states.
Harris, a native of the Bay Area, rallied with Newsom on Thursday and warned of the national consequences the recall could have if it was successful, referencing the recent change in abortion laws in Texas, among other things.
“What’s happening in Texas, what’s happening in Georgia, what’s happening around our country with these policies that are about attacking women’s rights, reproductive rights, voting rights, workers rights, they think if they can win in California they can do this anywhere, but we’re gonna show them they can’t,” Harris said.
The pandemic being a top issue across the state, Newsom has spent the campaign warning voters about potential policy changes surrounding the coronavirus if the recall passed. His team released an ad painting the election as “life or death.” He has singled out Elder’s promises that he will immediately end mask mandates and testing for state employees.
Spivak told ABC News that the threat of a leading candidate among the recall field, which was lacking before Elder joined the race two months ago, was helpful to Newsom in solidifying his message.
“He was really helped by Larry Elder eventually being the front-runner, because it gave him a comparison. Before he was trying to make it Newsom versus Trump, but Trump isn’t on the ballot,” Spivak said. “Larry Elder is, so Larry Elder can be Trump, play the role of Trump. And Larry Elder was obviously very happy to play the role … it was beneficial to both of them.”
Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, are already raising the alarm about the potential for voter fraud, based in conspiracies about the 2020 election. Trump claimed that the election is “probably rigged.” Elder warned of “shenanigans” last week — though he told ABC News Saturday, “So many people are going to vote to have it recalled, I’m not worried about fraud.”
Elder had previously said that he believed Biden won the 2020 election “fairly and squarely.” But he is now encouraging his supporters to call a hotline to report issues of voter fraud for litigation purposes in the recall, saying he fears there will be integrity issues similar to those of the 2020 election — despite there being no widespread evidence of voter fraud in November.
“We’re going to file lawsuits in a timely fashion,” Elder said last week.
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