Gavin Newsom’s political fate hung in the balance as polls closed on Tuesday night in a recall election to determine whether the As only the second gubernatorial recall effort in Republicans to seize control in a deep blue state.
Voters are being asked two questions: should Newsom be removed from office and, if he is recalled, who should take his place?
Millions of Californians have already cast their ballots, either by mail or at early voting locations, in a special election that is costing the state $276m. Meanwhile, in-person voters headed to the polls polls up and down the state on Tuesday. Polls closed at 8pm local time.
Newsom, who has been a broadly popular governor since he was elected in 2018, found himself in a peculiar position after a Republican-led recall effort gained steam amid the worst of the state’s pandemic.
The governor appeared confident heading into the final stretch, with polls and early returns indicating he is in a strong position. “I’m feeling good, as long as we can get out that vote,” Newsom said after greeting volunteers in Newsom spent Monday campaigning with Joe Biden, who warned that the outcome of the recall race could echo far outside of the Golden state.
“The eyes of the nation are on Meanwhile, the leading Republican challenger, the rightwing radio host Larry Elder, has been laying a groundwork of misinformation to falsely imply that the election, if he loses, was rigged against him.
Speaking with Newsom in Long Beach on Monday, the president called Elder “the clone of Donald Trump”.
“Can you imagine him being governor of this state?” Biden said. “You can’t let that happen. There is too much at stake.”
More than 40 candidates are running against Newsom, including the former was seen heading to the polls to cast her vote in person on Tuesday.
Early returns show that of those who have already cast their votes, most have been Democrats who are likely to oppose the recall. More Republicans are expected to vote in person on election day.
No major Democratic candidates are running against Newsom, who has encouraged supporters to leave the question of his replacement blank on their ballots. If even a hair more than 50% of voters opt to boot the governor, Elder or any other challenger with a plurality could take office and upend politics in an overwhelmingly Democratic state.
Such an outcome would cause national reverberations by placing a potentially antagonistic Republican leader at the helm of the nation’s most populous and economically productive state, and potentially dooming Democrats ahead of the midterm elections.
At campaign rallies, Newsom has emphasized that his early lockdown measures and first-in-the-country statewide mask mandate for schools have saved lives. But the governor is still working to live down several missteps: under Newsom’s watch, the state’s unemployment department struggled with extensive backlogs, while paying out an estimated $31bn in fraudulent claims. The state’s vaccine rollout was initially chaotic and slow – leaving some of the most vulnerable frontline workers behind.
An ill-timed, lobbyist-laden dinner at the Michelin-starred French Laundry restaurant, and the governor’s choice to send his own children back to private school before many public schools had reopened, heightened residents’ frustrations. Meanwhile, after Voters who remained lukewarm on Newsom said they still saw him as the better of bad choices. “I’m with a lot of people who might like to recall Gavin, but aren’t necessarily in favor of having Larry Elder in there,” said John Friedrich, a retiree living in Stockton, “There’s just all kinds of stuff going on this past year – just devastating stuff,” he added. “Any governor would have a tough job.”
The Associated Press contributed reporting