Californians went to the polls this Tuesday to decide if Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom would keep his job after activists managed to get enough signatures earlier this year to activate a recall election. Just a few hours after the initial results came in it became clear that Governor Newsom has defeated the attempt to vote him out of office, with NBC and The New York Times projecting that Newsom will win the vote.
According to the results reported on 9:00 PM PDT Tuesday, a whopping 66.8% (5,520,224) of voters said “No’ to recall Governor Newsom with approximately 60% of the total vote count already in. Although the majority of the vote reported is mail-in ballots and it is expected that the in-person election day vote might be more pro-recall, the margins appear too big for the “Yes” effort to overcome.
The governor addressed the media and his followers shortly after the race was called by media outlets, saying that he was “humbled and grateful to the millions, and millions of Californians who exercised their fundamental right to vote, and express themselves so overwhelmingly by rejecting the division” and he also said that he “wants to focus on what we said yes to as a state”.
Larry Elder defeated
Conservative media personality Larry Elder, who managed to be the most visible candidate of those who wanted to replace Newsom as governor, managed to win the most votes in the question over who would become governor had the recall succeded, with Elder getting 43.7% (1,909,944) of those votes. However, since Newsom defeated the push to recall him, these votes will only be a consolation price to Mr. Elder.
The results come after a campaign where it appeared at times that the governor might actually fight a close battle to keep his seat, with polls back in mid-august showing that the “Yes” option was in a technical tie with Governor Newsom. However, over the last few weeks of the campaign, that gap began to widen significantly, with the poll aggregator from FiveThirtyEight showing that the governor had managed to garner 57% of support against the efforts to recall him just days before the election.
The first results of the night, those of the Democratic stronghold of Nappa valley showed that Newsom was having a great night, as he overperformed his own 2018 results in the same county. A pattern that was then repeated in counties across the state, with Newsom managing to get a bigger share of the vote than when he was elected as governor.
Although Tuesday was definitely a bad night for the Californian Republican Party, there appears to be one silver lining that could potentially be pivotal in national elections in the future is the shift of Latino voters from Newsom and the Democrats to the GOP. A CNN Exit poll conducted both in-person on election day and by phone to absentee voters showed that 58% of respondents voted for Newsom, while 42% decided to vote for his removal. A similar CNN exit poll showed that Biden won the Latino Vote in California by a 75%-25% margin. If the CNN data is accurate, then there was a significant shift against Newsom in the Latino electorate.
Newsom’s recall strategy was succesful
When facing the prospect of a recall, California’s Democrats set into a high risk-high reward strategy, they decided not to run any official candidate to take over Newsom if the recall failed and instructed their militants to skip the second question altogether, which would ensure that a Republican candidate would easily win the governorship if Newsom was recalled.
By doing this, Newsom turned the premise of the recall upside-down, it was no longer an election to evaluate Newsom’s performance as governor but it was a decision of whether deeply Blue California would stomach a Republican as their governor, betting that Califonia Democrats would rally against the prospects of a conservative governor. The rise of firebrand conservative Larry Elder, who is not very well-liked by liberal Californians, surely fit into the strategy of Newsom.
The strategy worked. Not only did Californians gave Newsom another chance but they also decide to skip the second question of the referendum, with only 4.5 million voters selecting who should replace Newsom compared to the almost 8.5 million Californians who responded to the first question, albeit these numbers might change as the final results trickle in.
Republicans hoped that the unpopularity of Newsom and his handling of COVID could be enough to manage the political surprise of the year and turn California red. However, at the end of the day, it appears that deeply Democratic California just couldn’t stand the idea of a conservative governor.