California Governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday slammed a Republican recall effort by changing the competition’s stakes from a referendum on his performance and a partisan fight over Trumpism and the coronavirus.
Here are five takeaways from Newsom’s win:
COVID Precautions Could Help Democrats
Republicans intended to be a referendum on the Democrat regime of California, and the homelessness, crime, high housing costs and the energy problems that accompanied it. But in a little political ju-jitsu – and with the help of the spreading Delta version – Newsom turned it into a referendum on Republican opposition to precautions against the coronavirus.
Republicans running to replace Newsom opposed the mask and vaccine mandate, and the governor of California was happy to highlight it. Newsom aired an ad calling the recall “a matter of life and death” and accused the top Republican candidate, talk radio host Larry Elder, of “advancing deadly conspiracy theories.”
Ironically, Newsom was remembered in November after being caught at a lobbyist’s birthday party at a swanky Napa Valley restaurant – unmasked and at a large party that violated his own social distancing orders. But his strategists have been arguing for weeks that his leadership during the pandemic is a plus for him – and that other Democrats shouldn’t be afraid to take the lead on the issue.
Newsom emphasized the virus in his remarks after the win. “I want to focus on what we said as a state: we said ‘yes’ to science, we said ‘yes’ to vaccines, we said ‘yes’ to vaccines,” the governor told reporters. Said ‘yes’.”
GOP revives baseless fraud claims
Republicans’ baseless claims of electoral fraud aren’t going away anytime soon.
Even as ballots were still being cast, Republicans were claiming that the election was “rigged”. It was an unfounded allegation—and an odd one given that Republicans did relatively well in November under the same California election system, securing four congressional seats.
But former President Donald Trump’s false election fraud rhetoric quickly permeated Republican politics. The former president enthusiastically added his voice to the claims. And, several days before the close of voting, the Elder campaign began circulating links to a petition demanding an investigation into his loss, alleging widespread fraud—which some Republicans feared. That his voters shouldn’t bother to show up on Tuesday. .
The recall was always a long shot in a state where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by about 2-1 and where the GOP has not won a statewide election since 2006. But Republican conspiracy theories and claims of baseless fraud to explain the damage to polls that indicated months were coming show that the party will not move away from those suspicions. This led to the attack on the US Capitol on January 6 after Trump’s defeat. Some Californians are concerned about what might happen in their state now.
“This is going to be the second election in a row where there are going to be aggressive, emotional allegations of voter fraud,” said Mindy Romero, director of the Center for Inclusive Democracy at the University of Southern California. “I can’t see the positive out of it.”
No off-ramp for the California Gopi
The recall offered the California Republican his only plausible shot at statewide office in one of the most depressed states in the country. The recall is a way to dodge the state’s regular partisan vibe. It is an up or down referendum on the incumbent, who usually does not have an enemy of the opposite side to use as a foil. This does not happen during the biennial federal elections when voters are reminded of their party’s loyalty. And any new governor is chosen from a long list of candidates, rather than just the two preferred candidates from the two largest parties.
This makes the recall a way for someone who belongs to a party that has always been in the minority — the GOP — to still win. That’s what happened in 2003 when Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger won the recall against Democratic Gov. Gray Davis. Schwarzenegger’s liberal politics may never have won the GOP primaries, but were appealing enough to voters who were fed up with the ruling. Some Republicans expected it to happen again this year, with former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulkner, a moderate, on the ballot.
But there were two problems for the GOP. First, California is a lot different now than it was in 2003 – it’s more eclectic and more diverse. There are now 3.2 million more registered Democrats in the state than in the previous recall, but about 400,000 fewer Republicans.
Second, Faulkner was never caught. Instead, Elder’s bombastic style, revered during his decades on talk radio, and Trump’s echoes propelled him to the top of the Republican pack. Newsom, sensing a favorable contrast, began to pat the Elder on the waves of the wind.
Some Republicans hoped that the populist approach of Elder, who is African American, could attract a diverse California electorate. But it doesn’t seem to have worked.
“Larry Elder was exactly what Gavin Newsom needed,” said Rob Stutzman, a veteran strategist at the California GOP.
NEWSOM step back from the brink
There’s no doubt that Newsom won the recall election. But he may not have emerged immaculate.
When he was elected in 2018, Newsom was riding an anti-Trump wave in a state that saw itself as the heart of “resistance” to Republican power in Washington. The photogenic former San Francisco mayor was touted as a potential future presidential candidate.
Three years later, his state is battling a severe drought and accompanying wildfires. Heat waves trigger rolling blackouts. Homelessness is troubling the state’s big cities as housing costs show no signs of coming down.
The recall demonstrated that Republicans are unlikely to defeat Newsom in a partisan race. But there is a sizable bench of Democrats in California who might be itching to move up. “I think there are Democrats who are looking at this thing on their bib and with their fork and knife,” Stutzman said.
Newsom’s political campaign was able to deter any major Democrats from running into the recall as an option, freeing him to portray the effort as a partisan Republican scandal. Will he be able to keep out the challengers in 2022?
Tangled Signs for Intermediates
The recall marks the first significant election of Joe Biden’s presidency and served as a political stress test for both sides ahead of next year’s midterm.
Democrats showed they could oust their voters, even when their party held the White House—a traditionally difficult feat because the party in power usually loses seats in Congress in midterm elections. Republicans are trying to win back the House and Senate.
The recall — and the rejection of Elder — suggests that a candidate who is heavily aligned with Trump remains toxic in some areas, particularly Democratic ones.
In the end, the recall was a referendum on Newsom and how Californians wanted their state to be governed, particularly with regard to the coronavirus – an issue over which the governor has a great deal of influence. There will be a mid-term referendum on Biden. The power the GOP can wield – Congress’s control – is not the executive branch, where coronavirus rules have come to date.
It is unclear whether Democrats can defend Congress the same way they did in their largest state.
Associated Press writer Kathleen Ronayne contributed to this report.
Credit: www.independent.co.uk /