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On a scorching afternoon in Los Angeles’ South Park neighborhood, few braved the heat except for a handful of union volunteers on a mission to save the neck of California Governor Gavin Newsom.
Wearing the purple and yellow colors of their union, the four canvassers went door to door to urge residents of this predominantly Latin neighborhood to vote against the recall. Newsom, a Democrat who held the post for nearly three years, on September 14.
“Did you vote” No ” [to the recall]”? Zoila Toma, one of the Service Employees International Union volunteers, asked after greeting a woman who proudly said she had already voted by mail.
“Of course,” the woman replied. “We can’t let them take over, can we? She said, referring to Republicans in California who lobbied for the vote to recall Newsom.
But many Newsom supporters fear there isn’t enough enthusiasm to keep him in office, despite Democrats outnumbering Republicans in California.
The governor saw his approval rating drop 64% last September – when he and other heads of state such as ex-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo were praised for their Coronavirus pandemic performance – about 50 percent in July.
“There is definitely a lack of enthusiasm,” said Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California. “Republicans haven’t won a statewide race in California since 2006. If you’re a Republican voter, you’ll be excited to vote in the recall election. . . He is a real political joker.
The main contenders for the post of Gavin Newsom
Larry Elder, 69, is considered Newsom’s strongest challenger. He is the host of ‘The Larry Elder Show’, a nationally broadcast conservative talk show
Caitlyn Jenner, 71, is an Olympic gold medalist and reality TV personality
Kevin Faulconer, 54, is the former Republican mayor of San Diego. Before entering politics he was in public relations
John Cox, 66, is a San Diego real estate developer who was the Republican candidate for governor in 2018, losing to Newsom in a landslide
The recall election marks a radical change of fortune for Newsom, who won a landslide in 2018 and presented himself as a leader of the anti-Donald Trump resistance. But almost from the time he took office, Republicans across the state began to work to recall him.
The risk for Newsom is that some Democrats and independents will be less motivated to vote for him after a difficult year marked by deaths, disruption and job losses. Many have been frustrated by the state Covid-19 restrictions, with parents upset by long public school closures and restaurant owners angry at the ban on eating out.
As the governor faces the electorate, larger issues multiply. Homelessness has exploded since the start of the pandemic. Real estate prices have also skyrocketed, making home ownership out of reach for most first-time buyers. Much of California is struggling with drought and Forest fires.
But Newsom also handed ammunition to his critics when he dined without a mask at the French Laundry restaurant owned by Thomas Keller in November, just as he publicly urged citizens to stay at home. Republicans had failed five times to launch a Newsom recall effort, but the three-star Michelin dinner set things in motion.
“The French laundry really created a sense of detachment” around Newsom, said Fernando Guerra, professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University. “It was politically deaf, where you say one thing and do something else yourself.”
In a typical election, Newsom would appear to be heading for victory nonetheless. It has a formidable war chest of $ 54 million, thanks to the support of unions such as the SEIU and its top individual donor, Netflix chief Reed Hastings. Meanwhile, the state’s political makeup is in his favor: Joe Biden won 63.5% of the vote against Trump in 2020.
But the recall election has an unusual wording. The ballot asks voters to answer two questions: “Does Newsom need to be recalled?” And “Whichever way you voted on the first question, who should he be replaced by?”
If more than 50 percent of voters agree with the first question, then the candidate with the most votes in the second will serve the remainder of Newsom’s term. Critics of the process note that Newsom must win a majority of the vote, but his potential replacement could become governor with much less than a majority.
Larry Elder, a conservative talk radio host who uses his syndicated show as a platform to attack Newsom against homelessness, crime and the effect his Covid policies have had on business is leading the pack of contenders. Also on the ballot were reality TV star and Olympic gold medalist Caitlyn Jenner, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and businessman John Cox, a Republican who was beaten by Newsom during of the 2018 elections.
Recall efforts are not unusual in California – they have been launched against all governors since 1960 – but only two have reached the threshold number of signatures for an election: this year and in 2003. At the time, Democrat Gray Davis was recalled and replaced by actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who already had money and notoriety. Baldassare of the Public Policy Institute of California notes that no one in the current field has comparable advantages.
A recent FiveThirtyEight poll showed a slight advantage for Newsom, with 50.6% of California voters wanting to “keep” the governor and 46.3% wanting to “remove” him.
To his supporters, it might seem too close for comfort. But some longtime Democratic strategists are convinced he will win. Garry South, a seasoned consultant, said allegations of a lack of enthusiasm in his party were “completely exaggerated,” noting that the early voting patterns show a strong advantage for Newsom.
“Of course the Republicans are more supercharged – they’re trying to commit regicide here,” he said. “But there are more than twice as many Democrats as Republicans in California. Mathematics doesn’t care about enthusiasm.
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