Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom appeared on track Tuesday to avoid becoming the state’s second chief executive in fewer than 20 years to be removed from office by the voters in the middle of his term.
“I’m feeling good, as long as we can get out that vote,” Newsom told reporters after greeting volunteers in San Francisco hours before the polls closed at 8 p.m. PT.
“They designed this to catch us while we’re sleeping,” the governor said of recall supporters. “But I think you’ve seen in the early voting Democrats have been coming out strong, and I’m just humbled by that.”
Newsom’s advisers have expressed increasing confidence that the governor would survive the recall effort. The Democrat’s campaign had 25,000 volunteers on the streets over the weekend and has sent 31 million text messages to voters.
Surveys taken in recent weeks showed support for keeping Newsom in office enjoying a double-digit lead over support for removing him from the governor’s mansion. Just weeks earlier, polls showed a statistical tie on the recall question.
The earlier polls made alarming reading for Democrats in California and in Washington, who jumped into action to avoid the embarrassment of having a Democratic governor recalled in a state where the party enjoys an advantage of approximately two-to-one among registered voters.
Newsom’s campaign was bolstered by in-person appearances from President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, as well as Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). Biden made the closing pitch for the incumbent Monday night at a rally in Long Beach, where he warned Democrats that a “yes” vote on the recall question could lead to a “Trump clone” taking over in Sacramento.
“The eyes of the nation are on California because the decision you’re going 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.
“You either keep Gavin Newsom as your governor or you’ll get Donald Trump,” Biden said. “It’s not a joke. A Republican governor blocking progress on COVID-19 who is also anti-woman, anti-worker, a climate denier, who doesn’t believe in choice. The choice should be absolutely clear.”
The president was referring to radio talk show host Larry Elder, who Newsom and his supporters have cast as the face of the recall effort — despite the fact that Elder is one of 46 candidates and 24 Republicans on the ballot as potential replacements.
Elder staged his capstone rally in nearby Orange County, where he urged supporters to reach out to friends and neighbors to vote. The GOP will need a heroic Election Day turnout to catch Democrats, who have been turning in mail ballots in larger numbers. Nearly 8.6 million of California’s 22 million voters already have cast mail-in ballots.
“The lines are long, and that’s good news for our side,” Elder told Fox News’ Sean Hannity Tuesday night. “The Democrats trust the mail. They vote early. But I’m hearing from people saying, ‘I’ve been voting all my life. I’ve never seen lines like this.’”
Elder went on to describe Newsom’s record as governor as “indefensible, on crime, on homelessness, on the way he shut down the state — a third of all small businesses are now gone forever. We’ve only recovered about half of our jobs pre-pandemic as opposed to two-thirds nationwide.
“People are leaving California for the first time, citing high cost of living, taxes, regulations,” Elder went on. “$800,000 is the average price of a home in California. That’s 150 percent above the national average. Bad forest management, running out of water, our energy grid is poor. There’s no front where this man has done a good job.”
Beyond Elder, other prominent Republicans in the race include former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner and businessman John Cox. The best-known Democrat is Kevin Paffrath, a financial adviser with a large YouTube following.
The recall was fueled largely by anger over Newsom’s actions during the pandemic, which included imposing the nation’s first statewide shutdown order. Critics said he was heavy-handed, shuttering businesses and keeping children out of classrooms for longer than necessary. Newsom said his actions saved lives.
“I am angry. It should be a freedom of choice. What is this? A dictatorship?” asked Janet Webb, a 69-year-old Lafayette resident who voted for Elder.
She said squabbles over Newsom’s handling of the pandemic have split her family and friends and may prompt her to move out of state.
“I can’t live here like this if they’re going to force everyone to get a vaccine,” Webb said.
California voters have just two questions on Tuesday’s ballot: Should Newsom stay in office? And if not, who should replace him?
If a majority of voters mark “yes” on the recall question, the candidate who gets the most votes on the second question becomes governor. If the majority votes “no,” the second question becomes irrelevant.
Briana Mendoza, 30, said the last thing California needs is more turmoil. She voted to keep Newsom.
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic. Why would we recall the governor who has been really trying to curb the spread of the virus?” the San Diego social worker said.
In recent days, Elder suggested the results of the recall election could be skewed by unspecified “shenanigans,” echoing Trump’s baseless claims of voting fraud in his 2020 race with Biden.
There has been no confirmed evidence of widespread fraud. Elder’s campaign website has linked to a “Stop CA Fraud” site where people can sign a petition demanding a special legislative session to investigate the “twisted results,” well before any results were announced.
Newsom said he would accept the election results and urged Elder and others to do the same. “As an American, I’m ashamed. I’m disgusted by it. Stop. Grow up. These people literally are vandalizing our democracy and trust in our institutions,” he said.
Asked to provide evidence of any suspicious voting activity, Elder spokeswoman Ying Ma said the campaign wants “every proper vote to be counted” and “whatever shenanigans there are will not stand in the way of him becoming the next governor.”
With Post wires