Reuters/Guardian/AFP/ Sacramento/Los Angeles
California Governor Gavin Newsom has handily beat back a Republican campaign to oust him from office, sending a decisive message that voters in the deeply Democratic state supported his policies for tackling the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, immigration, and crime.
Newsom, who won his first term in 2018 by a landslide, again claimed a resounding victory in the special recall election.
That means he will remain in office through his term ending in January 2023 and see his chances significantly bolstered in next year’s regularly scheduled election.
With 100% of precincts reporting late on Tuesday and some mail-in ballots yet to be counted, Newsom was ahead by 28 percentage points, with 64% of voters saying that he should stay in office and 36% saying that he should be removed.
“I’m humbled and grateful to the millions and millions of Californians that exercised their fundamental right to vote,” Newsom said in a victory speech on Tuesday night in the state capital of Sacramento.
Early yesterday, the governor tweeted: “Tonight, California voted NO on the recall and YES to … Science. Women’s rights. Immigrant rights. The minimum wage. The environment. Our future. We rejected cynicism and bigotry and chose hope and progress.”
His victory and the high turnout in Tuesday’s election came as a relief to national Democrats, who already were bracing for a tough fight in the 2022 elections that will decide control of Congress.
A loss in one of the party’s stronghold states would have set off alarms across the country, particularly given the leading Republican challenger was a supporter of former president Donald Trump with a track record of controversial statements about women and minorities.
Newsom and Democratic leaders including President Joe Biden characterised the recall effort, heavily supported by state and national Republican groups, as part of a broader Republican agenda to oust Democrats from power and expand conservative restrictions on voting, civil rights and abortion.
“Economic justice, social justice, racial justice, environmental justice, our values where California has made so much progress, all of those things were on the ballot this evening,” Newsom said in his speech.
His decisive win holds lessons for national Democrats, who will be fighting next year to keep majorities in Congress and seats in governor’s mansions, said Democratic strategist Steven Maviglio.
Newsom mounted a massive get-out-the-vote effort that mobilised Democrats who typically are not engaged in off-year elections.
His embrace of strong Covid-19 protections such as mask and vaccination mandates, and his messaging around the threat that Trumpism posed to his liberal policies, resonated with Democratic voters, Maviglio said.
“Nationalising this election was the smartest move he could have made,” said Maviglio, who was press secretary for former governor Gray Davis.
Davis, a Democrat, remains the only California governor to lose his job in a recall, having been replaced by action star Arnold Schwarzenegger in a 2003 special election.
Having survived the recall, Newsom will now serve one more year before he is up for re-election.
“If he had survived by a small margin, it is very likely another Democrat would have run against him from the left next year,” said Dan Schnur, a politics professor who has advised Republican candidates. “But given a landslide like this one, it’s very hard to see that happening.”
Newsom, a 53-year-old former lieutenant governor and San Francisco mayor, faced just the second gubernatorial recall election in state history despite 55 attempts.
During his first term in office, he was beset by challenges including the pandemic, homelessness, extreme drought and severe wildfires.
California’s electoral rules set the recall bar low.
Malcontents need only gather signatures equivalent to 12% of the number of people who voted in the last election – in this case, 1.5mn.
California’s population is around 40mn.
Newsom’s main opponent was Larry Elder, 69, a right-wing talk radio star who has spoken proudly of his support for ex-president Trump.
Before polls even closed, Elder took a page out of Trump’s 2020 election playbook, launching a website alleging voter fraud and demanding state officials “investigate and ameliorate the twisted results” of the election.
However, at what he had previously billed as a “Victory Party”, he urged his supporters to be “gracious in defeat”.
“We may have lost the battle, but we are going to win the war,” he told an audience sprinkled with red “Make America Great Again” hats.
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