SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday defeated a recall aimed at kicking him out of office early, a contest the Democrat framed as part of a national battle for his party’s values in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
Newsom bolted to a quick victory boosted by healthy turnout in the overwhelmingly Democratic state. He cast it as a win for liberal issues and it ensures the nation’s most populous state will remain in Democratic control as a laboratory for progressive policies.
“‘No’ is not the only thing that was expressed tonight,” Newsom said. “I want to focus on what we said ‘yes’ to as a state: We said yes to science, we said yes to vaccines, we said yes to ending this pandemic.”
With about 60% of ballots counted, “no” on the question of whether to recall Newsom was ahead by a 2-to-1 margin. That lead was built on votes cast by mail and in advance of Tuesday’s in-person balloting, with a strong showing by Democrats. While likely to shrink somewhat in the days ahead as votes cast at polling places are counted, Newsom’s lead couldn’t be overcome.
Republican talk radio host Larry Elder almost certainly would have replaced Newsom had the recall succeeded, an outcome that would have brought a polar opposite political worldview to Sacramento.
The recall turned on Newsom’s approach to the pandemic, including mask and vaccine mandates, and Democrats cheered the outcome as evidence voters approve of their approach. Republicans had hoped for proof that frustrations over months of pandemic precautions would drive voters away from Democrats. The GOP won back four U.S. House seats last year, success that Republican leaders had hoped indicated revived signs of life in a state controlled by Democrats for more than a decade.
But a recall election is an imperfect barometer — particularly of national trends. Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2-to-1 in California, so the results may not translate to governors in toss-up states or reflect how voters will judge members of Congress next year.
Elder did not mention fraud as he addressed his supporters after the results were in. “Let’s be gracious in defeat. We may have lost the battle, but we are going to win the war,” he said, later adding that the recall has forced Democrats to focus on issues such as homelessness and California’s high cost of living.
Newsom became the second governor in U.S. history to defeat a recall, cementing him as a prominent figure in national Democratic politics and preserving his prospects for a future run. Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker survived a recall in 2012.
California voters were asked two questions: Should Newsom be recalled, and, if so, who should replace him? Only a handful of the 46 names on the replacement ballot had public recognition, but most failed to gain traction with voters.
Elder entered the race just three months ago and quickly rose to the top of the pack. But that allowed Newsom to turn the campaign into a choice between the two men, rather than a referendum on his performance.
Newsom will soon be campaigning again; he's up for reelection next year.