Bstipends were already being paid in the California gubernatorial recall election when Gavin Newsom, visiting a pop-up clinic in Oakland, again pleaded with his constituents to get vaccinated against Covid-19. The previous week, the governor had visited the site of the devastating Caldor fire, which threatened the resort town of South Lake Tahoe and destroyed nearly 1,000 structures.
These ongoing calamities – a health crisis unique in a generation and unprecedented challenges posed by drought and extreme weather conditions – were, in large part, what prompted the recall effort. After winning its seat by a historic margin in 2018, Newsom found itself in a special position. Still very popular in the state, he pushes back challenges from Republicans and right-wingers who are more out of touch with most residents than the governor at his worst. Extraordinary crises have given rise to an extraordinary recall – one that could spark extraordinary political upheaval in one of America’s bluest states.
The recall bulletin asks Californians two questions. First, should the governor be recalled? And if so, who should replace it? If more than 50% vote yes to the first question, the majority candidate for question two becomes governor. Right now, Newsom’s main challenger is right-wing radio host Larry Elder. Other Republicans including former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Congressman Kevin Kiley, businessman John Cox and Olympian-turned-reality-TV star Caitlyn Jenner have failed to win any awards. field, and no prominent Democrats are running.
As the September 14 deadline for returning the ballots draws closer, Newsom calls the voters’ decision between him and his Republican challengers a “choice of life or death.”
“We are experiencing extreme weather conditions unlike any we have ever experienced in our lifetime,” Newsom said at a rally on Wednesday. “Look at what’s going on in this country, look at the states that don’t believe in science,” he added, contrasting himself with Elder, who said climate science was “wrong” and s ‘is committed to canceling vaccination statewide and masking the warrants. His closing argument in the recall is that he may have made some mistakes – but the alternative is much worse.
“Newsom was one of the best governors in the country when the Covid pandemic broke out,” said James Lance Taylor, a political scientist at the University of San Francisco. “And as the dust clears, on almost every score, California has been relatively successful in enacting these pandemic measures and restrictions. “
There have been, without a doubt, major missteps. Parents became frustrated when public schools were closed in California longer than in other states. The state’s unemployment department faced huge backlogs and hundreds of thousands of resident unemployment claims were delayed, even as the agency paid around $ 31 billion in fraudulent claims. Newsom has faced severe criticism over the state’s initially slow rollout of the vaccine and its ineffective registration site.
The governor’s personal choices didn’t help either. There was his untimely visit to the Michelin-starred French Laundry restaurant amid a wave of Covid-19 last fall, and his admission that he was sending his own children to classes at a private school when most public schools remained closed.
The governor sometimes struggled to connect with voters. Although his approval rating peaked early in the pandemic and remains high, he doesn’t necessarily feel comfortable, said Mindy Romero, founder of the Center for Inclusive Democracy, a non-partisan research organization. The governor often presents himself as someone who has a good grasp of the crisis, which voters like, said Romero, “but they also need someone who feels approachable, who seems to understand the pain that is going on. they go through and the fear they have. . ”
Overall, Newsom – a well-connected member of the state’s political elite, of which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was an aunt by marriage – “comes across as a little too shrewd,” Tim said. Otto, 71, a bookstore owner in Stockton, California. Otto voted against the recall, not because he is necessarily a huge Newsom fan, but because he believed the governor had done a decent job in leading the state through the pandemic. “He didn’t let us become a Florida or a Texas,” said Otto – states whose governors have blocked or fought mask and vaccine requirements.
“He has his attitude ‘rules for you not for me,’” said Esther Taylor, 26, a grocery store employee who lives in the Central Valley of California. She didn’t know how she would vote in the recall – but she knew she was frustrated by the governor, especially because he seemed to have abandoned communities, like his own, that were outside the large coastal metropolitan centers that filled his country chests. and contributed to its political rise.
Allies rally to support Newsom
A Republican victory would bring a dramatic ideological change to the governor’s mansion in Sacramento, especially if a divisive candidate like Elder wins.
But a Republican governor would have « kind of muted ability, ”Romero said. Elder, or any other Republican who could win the election, could use emergency powers to pass sweeping policy changes, appoint judges, and fill vacancies statewide – including that of Senator Dianne Feinstein, 88 years old, if she retires before the end of her term. But a Democratic qualified majority in the state assembly and senate could override the governor’s veto power and block many important political appointments.
Ultimately, however, the national repercussions of a Democratic defeat in California would be greater than most policy changes a Republican governor could pass in a year, she said. “Republicans nationwide might say, ‘Look, we kicked out a Democratic governor in a blue state,” Romero said – and deflating Democratic momentum ahead of midterms.
So, in recent weeks, Democrats in California and Washington DC have stepped up their efforts to save Newsom’s political life. Harris returned to her hometown county in the Bay Area on Wednesday “to stand up and speak up for my friend, my longtime friend,” she told voters. Joe Biden is expected in the state on Monday for a rally in support of Newsom. Old President Obama appeared in a campaign ad for Newsom, as did Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Amid signs that Newsom was failing to inspire young progressive voters to go to the polls, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called on her young progressive Instagram followers in California to find their recall ballot. , to vote no and to “stick that sucker back in your mailbox”.
This latest effort is recognition, Romero said, that “anything beyond a resounding victory for Newsom is to some extent a failure for Democrats.” While the polls have looked dangerously close in recent weeks, more recent polls and early voting results indicate Newsom and his allies should be able to breathe easy. Nearly a third of the electorate voted Thursday morning, according to Political Data, Inc, with more than twice as many Democrats as Republicans returning their ballots so far. Recent polls have found Newsom with a double-digit lead in the race.
Still, it looks like the governor will spend the final days of his campaign highlighting what is at stake in the election. “You have the opportunity to determine the fate and future of the state. And I would say it has an impact on the fate and future of the United States of America, ”Newsom said in his appeal to voters this week.