A seldom event occurs on Tuesday in California- Californians will vote on whether Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom should be recalled. It is only the state’s second recall election to reach the ballot box, but it is the second in the last two decades. In 2003, Californians decided to recall Democratic Governor Gray Davis and substitute him with Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, making it the state’s very first fruitful gubernatorial recall.
Ever since, a lot has transitioned on numerous fronts. Nevertheless, the fact that it is even occurring now- and who the main Republican candidate is- is an illustration of how politics in the state has transformed, and it mirrors a nationwide drift towards stronger polarization. Last year, a handful of conservative Californians began a grassroots campaign to unseat Newsom, who was appointed in 2018. They were skeptical of the Democratic governor’s performance on taxation, immigration, the death penalty, and the state’s homelessness issue, among other concerns.
However, outrage over Newsom’s Covid-19 lockdown directives and other regulations fueled their efforts to obtain sufficient signature petitions to hold a recall election late last year. The reemergence of the Coronavirus, as well as dissatisfaction with the state’s homelessness crises, drought, and wildfire, injected an unexpected volatility level into the race during the summer. As a result, it prompted worries amongst Newsom allies regarding Democratic voters’ lack of understanding of the recall election, whereas GOP voters were extremely focused and willing to go to the ballot.
In the long run, though, Newsom’s position may be saved by concerns over the Delta variant’s spread. Newsom has been able to influence the tenor of the race by painting a distinction between himself and the primary Republican substitute candidate, conservative talk radio presenter Larry Elder, on handling Coronavirus, as he and senior Democratic surrogates have done.
For the better part of August, the recall appeared to be a true toss-up, but polls have seen Newsom’s edge growing in the closing weeks. This may be due to the massive sums of money injected into the campaign by Newsom and his supporters throughout this period, particularly on canvassing, text banking, phone banking, digital and TV ads. In the latest survey done by the Public Policy Institute of California at the end of August, only 39% of potential voters stated they would vote ‘yes’ to recall Newsom whereas 58 percent said they would vote ‘no.’ Millions of voters already have voted, and Democrats have surpassed their registration lead in the largely blue state. Republicans, on the other hand, expect to do better on Election Day due to their propensity for voting in-person.
The recall election will not only determine the next California Governor but will also have national ramifications. In the next year or so, the governor-elect can select a new senator to the Senate’s equally divided body. What’s more, it is the first significant test of if Democrats could energize their base- even in a deep blue state- prior to next year’s midterm elections, wherein Republicans are expected to retake the House.