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Red California: Can The GOP Really Win The Governor’s Mansion?


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Anyone who knows the basics of American politics knows that California is one of the most Democratic states in the country, with every single Democratic Presidential candidate winning the state since Clinton defeated Bush Sr. in 1992. At the state level, Democrats have also dominated Californian politics, with Democrats having control of both houses of the state legislature since 1996.

However, it is looking increasingly likely that the California Republican Party, which has not won at a state level since Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor, could achieve the impossible and snatch the governor’s mansion from the hands of Gavin Newsom, who faces a tough challenge in the recall election that is to be held on September 14th.

Newsom’s opponents collected a sufficient number of signatures earlier this year to call a recall vote against the governor, with the supporters of the recall effort managed to get 1,719,900 verified signatures asking for the recall of Governor Newsom, with the state requiring 1,495,709 valid signatures to trigger the recall.

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What will happen in California on September 14th?

Although for most of 2021 it appeared that the effort to unseat Newsom was doomed to fail, with the Democrat keeping a healthy lead in the polls, the latest surveys have indicated that the race is far closer than expected with a FiveThirtyEight poll aggregator showing a practical tie between both options, with 48.8% of likely voters saying they prefer to keep the governor and 47.6% saying they would like to remove him.

Recalling a Democratic governor in a deeply blue state would be good news for the Republican party in any circumstance, however, California’s unique electoral system makes it very possible that republicans manage not only to depose Newsom but also to win the governorship of California itself.

Conservatives collected enough signatures to trigger the recall of Governor Newsom earlier this year (EFE)

When Californians go to the polls (or receive their ballots in the mail) they will answer two questions. The first one is fairly straightforward if they want to kick Newsom out of office or not, then they can select a name from the pool of 46 approved candidates who they would like to replace Newsom if he loses the recall, whoever has the most votes out of this ballot would become the new governor if Newsom loses the recall.

There are two possible scenarios on September 14th: Newsom wins the recall vote and the second ballot is rendered moot or he loses his post as governor and California will have a new governor, and the polls are showing that Larry Elder, a popular conservative radio talk show host, is the best-positioned candidate to succeed Mr. Newsom.

Who is Larry Elder and can he become California’s next governor?

The latest polls show that Elder is polling at almost 20%, holding a 10-point difference from his closest rival, Democratic YouTuber Kevin Paffrath. Elder, an African-American who has been a radio host since 1993, has dominated the fundraising race among his fellow GOP candidates with him raising $4.5 million during the first 19 days of his campaign.

Mr. Elder has harshly criticized Governor Newsom’s handling of the COVID pandemic, calling them “disastrous” and highlighting that “only 50% of jobs have been recovered in California to pre-pandemic levels, whereas two-thirds of the national average has been recovered”. Elder considers himself a libertarian, with him saying to the Cal Matters website that “the biggest challenge in California, in general, is the intrusivness of the government”.

Conservative radio talk show host Larry Elder has been leading the polls and could very well succeed Newsom (Photo:Larry Elder| Gage Skidmore| Flickr| CC By-SA 4.0)

Accordingly, he opposes the minimum wage (saying it should be left to the market), supports the legalization of marihuana, wants to eliminate many of the restrictions California has on housing developments and is a big supporter of school choice.

Elder has also been heavily criticized by mainstream media outlets and by Governor Newsom, who have accused him of being misogynistic and too conservative for one of the bluest states in the country.

The Los Angeles Times published a column accusing Elder of being “the black face of white supremacy”, CNN also published an article saying that electing Elder would be “disastrous for California and the country”, and the New York Times published an opinion column saying that Elder’s candidacy is a “looming disaster for our beleaguered state”.

Elder was also recently accused by his ex-fiancee of branding a gun against her in the middle of a fight, in an exclusive interview to Politico, a charge that Elder vehemently denies, saying that such accusations are nothing more than “salacious allegations” and that he will not “dignify” the accusation with a response.

Since the Democratic party decided not to nominate any well-known politician and has asked its constituency to not vote on the second ballot, it is likely that if Newsom loses the recall then Mr. Elder would become the next governor if the polls are right. This strategy serves as a double-edged sword for Democrats, it incentivizes apathetic Democrats to vote for Newsom out of fear of an almost certain Elder Administration, however, it also creates a golden opportunity for the Republican Party to win the California governorship if they manage to win the first question, which is basically a tossup as of right now.

Newsom is hoping that the fear of a Republican governor would be enough incentive to survive his recall vote and keep his post, however, if the strategy fails and voters are more apathetic towards Newsom than fearful of a GOP governor then the Democrats would have managed what it seemed impossible a couple of years ago, losing their biggest state to a black conservative radio talk show host.

Daniel is a Political Science and Economics student from the University of South Florida. He worked as a congressional intern to Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) from January to May 2020. He also is the head of international analysis at Politiks // Daniel es un estudiante de Cs Políticas y Economía en la Universidad del Sur de la Florida. Trabajo como pasante legislativo para el Representate Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) desde enero hasta mayo del 2020. Daniel también es el jefe de análisis internacional de Politiks.