Gavin Newsom had every reason to believe he was safe. Democratic governor in one of the most heavily Democratic states in the United States, he occupied a political stronghold strengthened by a massive electoral victory that catapulted him to power in 2018 with nearly 62% of the vote, a personal popularity that remained above 55 percent, and a record of leadership that included a robust response to the pandemic and, in an era of viral deficits, a budget surplus of at least US $ 38 billion.
But Mr Newsom has spent the summer fighting for his political life after a recall effort threatened to impeach him and raise a Tory radio host in his place.
“This is the fourth time in American history that a reminder from a US governor has appeared on the ballot,” said Mike Netter, founding member of the recall campaign. He uses superlatives to describe the effort, calling it an unprecedented voluntary initiative to use a century-old constitutional measure to expel a democratically elected leader in favor of the radio host or dozens of other candidates.
In California, he said, “people became the underdogs – and when the hell did that happen? “
“I’ll officially tell you who my favorite candidate is. It’s anyone but Gavin, ”he said. “That’s what California says. We are fed up with this. We have to make a change.
That rhetoric does not match with preliminary polls, which suggest Mr Newsom is likely to retain his seat on Tuesday in a recall election, a victory for progressive forces who have also replaced Donald Trump with Joe Biden as president. It is possible, however, that he will be forced to give way to Larry Elder, a fiery conservative talk-radio host from Los Angeles who has supported a total ban on abortions and supported sex education ridding schools, of which he. described the elements as “pornographic”. . ”
The anxiety in Mr. Newsom’s camp is evident in the profiles of those who came to his side during the campaign, including Mr. Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and former President Barack Obama.
California Governor Gavin Newsom’s recall campaign collects enough signatures to qualify for the ballot
And the fierceness of the resistance behind the California Democratic recall is perhaps the clearest sign that the anti-establishment upheaval that made Mr. Trump president continues to remain one of the most defining elements of democracy. American.
In decades of observing state politics, Republican political consultant Mike Madrid “never saw the Republican base so excitable,” he said. But “the Republican base in California is identical to the Republican base in the rest of the country” – a bloc that has favored political performance over politics or other concerns. “There is no desire to make government work. This is simply no longer the aim of Republican politics, ”said Mr. Madrid.
Behind the recall is a Republican Party which in California and the United States has changed as it has dwindled in numbers. Republicans now make up 24.1% of registered voters in California, up from 35.3% in 2003. (Democrats make up 46.5% of registered voters in the state.)
“The Republican base has never been smaller than it is today,” said Mr. Madrid. “As it shrinks, it gets more extreme, it gets more choppy. “
The attempt to remove Mr. Newsom cannot be called undemocratic: it uses a provision added to the constitution in 1911. Nineteen US states have mechanisms for removing governors.
Yet such an effort to get on a ballot is rare. The California governor’s recall vote is only the fourth in US history; in two of the previous attempts, voters deposed the incumbent governor. The most memorable effort retired Governor Gray Davis in 2003 and replaced him with Arnold Schwarzenegger, who profited from the publicity surrounding that year’s release of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.
California’s recall mechanism is unusual in that it offers voters two questions on Tuesday. Should the incumbent be removed? And who should serve as a successor? If a majority answers yes to the first question, the governorship goes to the person with the most votes on the second – a list that cannot include the incumbent. This creates a situation where a governor who won almost 62% of the vote could be replaced by someone who received much less support.
Yet Mr Davis and Mr Newsom entered the recall in very different places. By the time of his fall to Mr Schwarzenegger, Mr Davis scored relatively low in voter approval polls and was struggling with a yawning public deficit.
Mr. Newsom does not share any of these weaknesses.
For that reminder, then, “what’s amazing is that they even tried,” said Henry Brady, a political scientist at the University of California at Berkeley and former president of the American Political Science Association.
He called it a reflection of “the policy we have now, which is that Republicans see themselves as a decided minority.” They know they can’t win the majority in many places. His assessment of the strategy of the American political right: “If you can’t win an election fairly and squarely, you’re going to try to win it by tow or by the truffle. “
He called for changes to California’s recall system that he hopes can strengthen its democracy.
But the campaign against Mr Newsom has exposed real weaknesses in the state. Mr Elder has loudly decried the inability of the incumbent governor – or his predecessors – to alleviate some of the state’s most difficult ailments, including a housing price crisis and a series of related problems: increase in homelessness and evidence that people are leaving the state.
And where political experts see the recall wreaking havoc, supporters see a disenchanted electorate. Take Kevin Faulconer, a prominent Republican among those also running to replace Mr Newsom. Despite a long career, including six years as mayor of San Diego, polls show Mr Faulconer has around 5% support.
That’s less than a fifth of what polls show for Mr. Elder.
Republican strategists call it lamentable.
For Mr. Netter, however, Mr. Elder’s rise to the top of the polls suggests that “California is in desperate need of leadership,” he said.
Even though the recall is only for California, it matters beyond state borders, said Stephanie Suela, recalls coordinator in Sacramento County, in the state. Democrat for decades, she now calls herself a libertarian. The recall, she said, “really has nothing to do with Donald Trump.”
But even though Mr. Trump is not on the ballot, his shadow hangs over it – and maybe got bigger as well.
The reminder “will tell others that they don’t need to be afraid to question their politicians,” Ms. Suela said. “They have to get up.”
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