California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom easily survived a recall effort Tuesday night – avoiding the threat of becoming the second chief executive of the Golden State to be removed from office by voters before the completion of his term in under 20 years.
With 61 percent of the expected vote in, the “no” response to the ballot question of whether Newsom should be recalled had 66.8 percent of the vote while the “yes” response had 33.2 percent.
The final margin was expected to be closer as more votes were counted, but not be nearly close enough to trouble the incumbent.
In brief remarks Tuesday night, Newsom said Californians — in voting “no” on the recall — had “said yes to science”.
“We said yes to vaccines, we said yes to ending this pandemic,” Newsom said. “We said yes to people’s right to vote without fear of fake fraud or voter suppression. We said yes to women’s fundamental constitutional right to decide for herself what she does with her body … We said yes to diversity, we said yes to inclusion, we said yes to pluralism. We said yes to all those things that we hold dear as Californians, and I would argue, as Americans.”
Had Newsom been recalled, Republican candidate and longtime radio talk show host Larry Elder would have been in line to become the state’s next governor. Elder, the self-described “Sage of South Central” who was attacked while he toured a Venice homeless encampment last week, received 43.6 percent of the vote of those who chose a potential replacement for Newsom.
The next closest competitor, Democrat Kevin Paffrath, received just 10.7 percent of the vote, followed by former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer with 9.5 percent of the vote. No other potential Newsom replacement received more than 5 percent support.
Support for Newsom remaining in office had grown in the weeks before polling day as national Democrats ramped up their efforts to ensure that the governor would not be cast out prematurely in a state where Democrats hold a two-to-one advantage in voter registration over Republicans.
President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris stumped on Newsom’s behalf in recent days, with Biden making the closing pitch to voters at a rally in Long Beach.
The president compared Elder, who he did not mention by name, to Republican governors who have opposed mask and vaccine mandates in response to the COVID-19 pandemic – an effort to bolster Newsom’s record on the very issue that accelerated the recall campaign last year.
“On COVID-19, Gavin Newsom has had the courage to lead, to stand up for science,” Biden said, adding that “he’s been one of the leading governors in the nation, protecting people and vaccinating his state.”
“Look folks, we don’t need politics in this battle against COVID,” the president added. “We need science, we need courage, we need leadership, we need Gavin Newsom.”
In addition to the star-studded support, the governor’s campaign stepped up its voter outreach efforts in the home stretch. It put 25,000 volunteers on the streets over the weekend and sent approximately 31 million text messages to voters.
Shortly after the polls closed at 8 p.m. PT, it became clear those efforts had paid off handsomely as the “no” vote racked up big early margins.
The effort to recall Newsom, launched in early 2020, initially focused on issues like crime and homelessness. But the governor’s actions following the onset of the coronavirus pandemic – including the nation’s first statewide shutdown order – quickly became the focus of discontent among recall supporters.
Newsom did not help his own cause in November when he was photographed attending a maskless dinner with 11 others at the exclusive French Laundry eatery in Napa County, despite telling Californians to avoid gatherings of more than three households.
In March, the recall proponents confirmed that they had gathered the required number of signatures days ahead of a deadline to get the issue on the ballot this year.
Initially, supporters of removing Newsom from office appeared to have the wind at their backs, as polls taken in mid-August showed a statistical tie on the recall question. However, as Democrats turned their full attention to the race, support for keeping Newsom in office grew. On the eve of voting day, support for keeping Newsom in the governor’s mansion had double-digit support in every poll.
Meanwhile, Elder’s emergence as the front-runner among the replacement candidates enabled Newsom to cast the recall vote as a stark choice between liberal policies and “Trumpism” rather than a referendum on his performance as governor. Elder immediately captured attention from the party’s conservative grassroots, but he also alienated independents and Democrats who may have considered a vote against Newsom.
Other Republicans failed to get traction in the race. Faulconer had problems raising money and struggled to appeal to both the party’s base and the broader electorate. Businessman John Cox, who lost badly to Newsom in the 2018 gubernatorial race, tried to spice up his campaign by hiring a live bear to join him, but could only muster 4.7 percent of the vote.
The biggest name in the race, former Olympic gold medalist-turned reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner, left the state for part of the campaign to film a reality show in Australia. Jenner, who would have been the first transgender governor of an American state, received just 1.2 percent of the vote.
Newsom may soon be running against Elder again: The governor is up for reelection next year, and the primary, which puts candidates from all parties on one ballot, is just nine months away.