Costa Mesa, California (Trends Wide) — California’s Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom gave a decisive answer to the question of whether voters would penalize those who enacted tough policies aimed at curbing the coronavirus pandemic by triumphing over an effort to impeach him on Tuesday.
Newsom faced the first recall election in California in 18 years. At one point, weeks before the election, he appeared to be in serious enough danger that Democrats decided to send President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to campaign for him.
Republicans sought a replay of 2003, when actor Arnold Schwarzenegger gained support across ideological lines and voters decided to impeach then-Gov. Gray Davis. This time, however, the party’s leading candidate, radio host Larry Elder, moved much closer to conservative orthodoxy, making it difficult to attract the kind of broad bipartisan support that is needed for a Republican candidate to win in California.
And his long history of inflammatory remarks, combined with the bizarre impeachment system that virtually guaranteed Elder would become governor if Newsom retired, seemed to motivate those who had largely disconnected from the election and may not have cast their votes. votes.
Here are five takeaways from the California recall election:
Strict policies against the pandemic win a big win
Newsom’s aggressive measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the same restrictions that helped drive the recall election, received a significant boost Tuesday night, demonstrating to Democrats across the country that a strict policy against a pandemic can be a good policy.
Newsom nodded to this in his comments to overnight reporters, stating that while people voted “no,” that vote meant they said, “yes to science, yes to vaccines … yes to vaccines. put an end to this pandemic. “
This, more than any other lesson emerging from California, is the one most likely to carry over to other elections later this year and in 2022, helping to back up Democrats who have pushed through tough coronavirus measures to curb the ongoing spread of the delta variant in the face of a small but noisy opposition.
Newsom wagered his campaign on his strict covid measures, using them to flag Elder as lax on the pandemic, contrasting himself with Republican governors in Texas and Florida, and fully complying with the new vaccine requirements that Biden announced just days before the election day.
“We saw the delta rise as a real turning point in this campaign,” said Sean Clegg, Newsom’s chief strategist. “What delta brought to a clear, clear focus was what is at stake in this election when a party has basically become an anti-science, anti-vaccine and anti-public health party.”
A Newsom vs. Elder in 2022?
While acknowledging Newsom’s victory Tuesday night, Elder hinted at another race next year, in the already scheduled gubernatorial race in California.
“We may have lost the battle, but we are going to win the war,” Elder said.
That could be a headache for California Republicans.
The party had other options, including former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, that might have been less objectionable to moderate and Democratic voters. But state conservatives supported Elder. His campaign framed the race as a choice between two candidates, one of whom was very out of step with California’s overwhelming Democratic majority, rather than a simple referendum on the governor.
Still, Elder, who if elected would be California’s first black governor, has galvanized conservatives into a state where Republicans are virtually powerless. He could be a leading voice in the Republican Party in the upcoming midterm elections.
“As a former radio host, let me tell you this: Stay tuned,” Elder said Tuesday night.
California lessons are limited
Many of the lessons Democrats across the country can learn from the recall are far less definitive, complicated so much by the fact that that state, with its nearly 2-1 record lead for Democrats, bears little resemblance to the recall. most of the key races in 2022 and that recall elections, by nature, create unique electoral conditions.
Newsom’s advisers were quick to argue that National Democrats would do well to follow suit, urging them to link their opponents to Trump, as the governor did, and to nationalize the races to increase the stakes.
“Larry Elder is on the ballot here in the recall, but a version of Larry Elder will be on the ballot across the country,” said Juan Rodriguez, Newsom’s campaign manager. “And that’s an important lesson for Democrats and how they lean on the message we’ve made.”
Democrats looking to win key races in 2021 and 2022 were less confident that California would provide them with a roadmap, given the state’s unique political structure.
“It is very difficult to see any real inference that can be made from the results in California,” said a senior Democrat in Virginia, where Terry McAuliffe is currently running for a second term as governor, “is valid for some of the broader message points as it relates to the covid response and the republican brand. “
Elder did not speak of fraud
California seemed poised to become the latest addition to former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie,” and Republicans were showing signs of denying the reality of the recall election result.
Elder had warned of “mischief” in the voting process. His campaign had launched a website for those who had trouble voting or saw evidence of fraud to submit affidavits. And on stage Tuesday night, before Elder spoke, speakers cast doubt on the legitimacy of the electoral process.
“Some TV stations say it’s coming to an end, it’s too early. It’s too early. They just counted the mail ballots. They still have to count the actual ballots; the workers who go to the polls every day,” said the former Republican Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado.
Instead, it appears that the chatter about voter fraud was simply a way to jump-start conservative voters who have bought into Trump’s lies.
Elder seemed to end that talk on stage. He did not mention electoral fraud. And he interrupted fans who were booing Newsom. “Let’s be courteous in defeat,” he said.
The enormous cost of recall
The price of California’s recall election was $ 276 million, according to the state Department of Finance.
Ultimately, the state’s bizarre laws allowed for an election that was nowhere near taking place, at enormous cost, just 14 months before Newsom would have been on the ballot for re-election anyway.
Along the way, it sparked calls to reform the impeachment process, which can be triggered by a petition signed by 12% of the voters in the last state gubernatorial election, for any reason.
“A waste of $ 276 million just to reaffirm 2018 results with an election in 2022,” California Assembly Speaker Kevin Mullin tweeted Tuesday night.
Mullin said the reforms should include elevating the lieutenant governor to the post of chief executive officer of the state if a governor is successfully removed from office, rather than voters electing a replacement on the same ballot.
Newsom’s campaign urged voters to vote “no” on the possibility of withdrawing him, and then leave the second question blank, on who should replace him. That strategy seemed problematic when polls showed a close race without a viable Democratic candidate if Newsom retired. But he eventually helped Newsom’s campaign turn the pageant into a showdown with Elder.