Newsom faced the first recall election in California in 18 years. At one point, weeks before the election, it looked like he was in serious enough danger, so the Democrats decided to send President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to campaign for him.
Republicans sought a repeat of 2003, when actor Arnold Schwarzenegger attracted support across ideological boundaries, and voters decided to start the then government. Gray Davis. This time, however, the party’s leading candidate, talk radio host Larry Elder, kept much closer to conservative orthodoxy — making it difficult to attract the kind of broad two-party support it takes for a GOP candidate to win in deep blue California.
And his long history of burning comments – combined with the unequal recall system that largely guaranteed that elders would become governor if Newsom was recalled – to give them energy that had largely voted in the election and might not have cast their ballots.
Strict pandemic policy gets a big win
Newsom’s aggressive efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus – the same restrictions that helped spur recall calls – received a significant boost Tuesday night, showing Democrats across the country that strict pandemic policy can be good policy.
Newsom nodded to this in his election night remarks to journalists, stating that while people voted “no”, this vote meant they said “yes to science, yes to vaccines … yes to ending this pandemic.”
This, more than any lesson from California, is the most likely to permeate other elections later this year and in 2022 – helping back Democrats who have pushed for strict coronavirus measures to slow the ongoing spread of the Delta variant in the light of a small but vocal resistance.
Newsom focused its campaign on its strict Covid measures, using them to attack elders relaxing the pandemic, contrasting with Republican governors in Texas and Florida and fully running with the new vaccine requirements that Biden announced just days before election day.
“We saw the Delta rise as a real turning point in this campaign,” said Sean Clegg, Newsom’s top strategist. “What Delta brought clear and distinct focus on was what is about to stand in this election when a party has fundamentally become an anti-scientific, anti-vaccinating, anti-popular health party.”
A Newsom Vs. Elder race in 2022?
In the same breath as he acknowledged Newsom’s defeat for the recall on stage Tuesday night, Elder suggested another race next year in California’s normally scheduled governor’s race.
“We may have lost the battle, but we are going to win the war,” Elder said.
It can be a headache for California Republicans.
The party had other options – including former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer – which could have been less offensive to moderate and democratic voters. But conservatives in the state gathered around the elder, the talk radio host with a long record of burning comments that Newsom grabbed. His campaign designed the race as a choice between two candidates, one of whom was far out of step with California’s overwhelming Democratic majority, rather than a simple up or down referendum on the governor.
Yet elders who, if elected, have California’s first black governor have galvanized conservatives in a state where Republicans are virtually powerless. He could be a prominent voice in the GOP at the upcoming midterm elections.
“As a former radio host, let me just say this: stay tuned,” Elder said Tuesday night.
Lessons from California are limited
Many of the lessons that Democrats across the country can take from the defeat of the recall are far less final-complicated both by the fact that this state with its nearly 2-1 registration advantage for Democrats somewhat resembles most important races in 2022 and that recalls by nature creates unique election conditions.
Newsom’s advisers were quick to argue that National Democrats would be wise to follow their lead – urging them to tie their opponents to Trump, as the governor did, and to nationalize races to push the effort.
“Larry Elder is at the polls here on the recall, but a version of Larry Elder is going to be on the ballot across the country,” said Juan Rodriguez, Newsom’s campaign manager. “And that’s an important lesson for the Democrats, and how they in a way lean toward the message we’ve done.”
Democrats tasked with winning important races in 2021 and 2022 were less confident that California gave them a roadmap given the state’s unique political composition.
“It’s very difficult to see any real conclusions that can be drawn from California’s results,” said a top Democrat in Virginia, with Terry McAuliffe currently running for another term as governor, “sticking to some of the broader message points as it relates to the Covid reaction and the Republican brand. ”
No talk of fraud from elders
California had appeared to be the latest addition to former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie,” in which Republicans showed signs of denying the reality of the outcome of the recall election.
Elders had warned of “shenanigans” in the voting process. His campaign had launched a website for those who had trouble voting or saw evidence of fraud to submit statements. And on stage Tuesday night, before the elders spoke, the speakers questioned the legitimacy of the election process.
“Some TV stations say it’s coming to an end – it’s way too early. It’s way too early. They’ve just counted the postal votes. They still have to count the right votes; the working people who go to the polls daily basis, “said former Republican Lieutenant Abel Maldonado.
Instead, it seems that the talk of election fraud was simply a way to energize conservative voters who have bought into Trump’s lies.
Elders seemed to put an end to that talk on stage. He did not mention election fraud. And he cut off followers who lived in Newsom. “Let us be gracious in defeat,” he said.
Recall’s enormous cost encourages reform
The price tag for California’s recall election was $ 276 million, according to the state Treasury Department.
In the end, the unequal laws of the state allowed an election that was nowhere near being held at enormous cost, only 14 months before Newsom would still have been on the ballot for re-election.
Along the way, it received calls to reform the recall process – which can be triggered through a petition signed by 12% of voter turnout at the state’s last gubernatorial election, for whatever reason.
“$ 276 million wasted just to confirm 2018 results with a 2022 election,” California Assembly Speaker Pro Temp Kevin Mullin tweeted Tuesday night.
Mullin said reforms should include lifting the lieutenant governor to the top executive position of the state if a governor is successfully recalled, rather than voters electing a replacement on the same ballot.
Newsom’s campaign urged voters to vote ‘no’ on whether to remember him and then leave the second question – who should replace him if he was to be recalled – blank. This strategy seemed problematic as opinion polls showed a close race without any viable democratic candidate if Newsom was recalled. But it ultimately helped Newsom’s campaign turn the competition into a head-to-head with elders.