Will California Governor Gavin Newsom Face a Recall Election?

Newsom is expected to keep his job, according to polls, but the recall has encouraged Republicans.

Republicans may remove the Democratic governor of a deep blue state.

On September 14, California Governor Gavin Newsom will face a high-stakes race in which one of hundreds of candidates, including a prominent conservative radio personality who opposes abortion and has lauded former Republican President Donald Trump, might unseat him.

Newsom is facing a recall election, in which Republican voters are attempting to remove him from office. On a national level, the decision might be a harbinger for the House midterm elections in 2022, and leading Democrats are rallying around Newsom.

Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Bay Area this week to rally support for Newsom, and President Joe Biden is slated to join him next week.

Registered voters are getting ballots in the mail that ask two questions: should Newsom be recalled and, second, should he be re-elected? If approved, voters will be able to choose from a list of 46 candidates to succeed him.

If more than half of the voters vote against recalling Newsom, he will stay in office. If a majority of voters support recalling him, he will be removed from office and replaced by the candidate who receives the most votes on the second question.

The recall process has been criticized as unfair since, for example, 49 percent of voters might vote against recalling Newsom, while his replacement could receive a lower percentage of the remaining votes.

How did we get here?

Recall elections are not held in every state, however in California, any voter can petition for the removal of an elected official by gathering enough signatures.

Recall elections are common in California, but they seldom succeed – this is only the second gubernatorial recall election in the state’s history, and the fourth in the United States.

According to The Associated Press news agency, retired police officer Orrin Heatlie initiated the recall in February 2020 after being outraged by Newsom’s comments instructing undocumented immigrants not to open their doors unless police had a warrant.

Heatlie and volunteers secured thousands of signatures from other Republicans who opposed Newsom, but they still required the signatures of 12% of voters from the previous election, or 1.5 million individuals.

Two occurrences gave them the upper hand. A judge granted the recall organizers four further months to collect signatures, citing the COVID pandemic. Newsom also attended a maskless dinner with 11 friends and lobbyists in November at a luxury restaurant where supper starts at $350 per person, despite telling Californians to wear masks and avoid assembling with their families for Thanksgiving dinner.

People of all political shades perceived his actions as hypocritical and contributed to the recall campaign by signing petitions and donating money. Despite Newsom’s admission that he should have set a better example by not attending the dinner, the recall movement garnered more than the needed number of votes.

Newsom’s actions, according to Sarah Hill, an associate professor of political science at California State University, verified public impression. She explained, “It mirrored what people’s perceptions were [about Newsom], and it truly provided the example that people needed.”

“This guy is elite and doesn’t understand what normal Californians are dealing with; he’s out of touch, we need to do something about this,” she said, describing the public perception. “So it provided that momentum.”

Voters who want Newsom recalled cite a mix of reasons; a recent SurveyUSA poll found those voting to recall him said it was due to his COVID response, handling of COVID restrictions, and closures of businesses and schools. About 11 percent pointed to his actions at the fancy dinner.

What are Newsom’s chances of being removed?

In early August, polls showed a dead draw between voters who wanted to keep Governor Gavin Newsom and those who wanted him to be removed, putting his job in peril.

Democrats wanted him to stay, but they were less involved in the recall campaign at first than Republicans. “He had an enthusiasm gap,” Mindy Romero, the founder and director of the Center for Inclusive Democracy in Sacramento, explained.

The governor disregarded the recall until August, when the numbers drove him to change tactics, and he began casting it as an immediate threat, she continued.

“He has changed his approach in the last two weeks especially, really upped the game, really directly saying the stakes are high, they’re so high it’s life and death. I think that’s working,” Romero said.

The ascension of Larry Elder, a famous conservative radio presenter who is currently the leading candidate among people seeking to recall Newsom, is another factor fueling Democrats.

Elder has made a number of sexist remarks over his career. He promoted the 1950s textbook How to Be a Good Wife, which advised women to cook dinner for their husbands and not complain, claimed women knew less about politics, economics, and current events than men, and suggested some women who attended the Women’s March against President Trump were “safe” from sexual assault because they were unattractive, according to the Los Angeles Times.

According to CNN, he said in a 1996 radio commercial that women do not confront a glass ceiling in their jobs and that Black people “overestimate the role of racism.”

Elder is anti-abortion, wants to repeal Newsom’s immunization and mask mandates, and has referred to Trump as “nearly God-sent,” all of which could persuade Democrats to vote to keep him out of office.

According to Romero, Newsom cemented Elder’s position as the conservative frontrunner by presenting the race as a contest between himself and Elder in a left-leaning state.

“He is crowning the frontrunner that he is happy to have,” she said.

According to recent polls, people are leaning toward keeping Newsom in office. According to a SurveyUSA poll conducted between September 7 and 8, 54 percent of likely voters want the governor to stay in office, while 41 percent want him to go.

What does the recall mean for the 2022 midterms?

Pro-recall campaigners and Elder are staging rallies to encourage people to vote as election day approaches. Political strategists and the media are circling the country, waiting for data that can be separated from indications ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

“It’s really about 2022,” explained Raphael Sonenshein, political scientist and head of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University. Analysts want to know what strategies are most effective and which base is more mobilised, he said. “People are looking for the entrails of the chicken to find out what’s happening out there.”

If Newsom survives, he faces a general election in November 2022. If he is kicked out, his replacement would only hold power for one year before the next election.

California recalls were originally intended as a check on power, but ultimately either party can spin the results for political gain.

Regardless of the outcome, Romero said the recall’s success has emboldened Republicans. The midterms often swing back towards the party that lost the last election, and the recall gives Republicans a powerful narrative to say, “We’re taking back our country,” she explained.

“It’s a dream come true for Republican strategists to be able to point to what’s happening in the recall,” she said.


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