By Sharon Bernstein SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) -California Governor Gavin Newsom could soon learn his fate in a special election on Tuesday that is testing the power of a Republican Party still dominated by former U.S. President Donald Trump in a deeply Democratic state. Newsom – a first-term governor and former lieutenant governor and San Francisco […]
Californians await results in recall election of Governor Newsom
By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) -California Governor Gavin Newsom could soon learn his fate in a special election on Tuesday that is testing the power of a Republican Party still dominated by former U.S. President Donald Trump in a deeply Democratic state.
Newsom – a first-term governor and former lieutenant governor and San Francisco mayor – is fighting for his political future in only the second gubernatorial recall election in state history despite 55 attempts.
Polls closed in the state at 8 p.m. PDT, or 11 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT), bringing to an end voting that began with mail-in ballots nearly a month ago.
The latest opinion polls showed Newsom favored to retain his job even as he was beset with challenges including the COVID-19 pandemic, extreme drought and severe wildfires.
By Tuesday night just before the polls closed, about 44% of the 22 million ballots mailed to voters in the most populous U.S. state had been returned, signaling an unusually high turnout for an off-year election.
Results could be available as soon as Tuesday night or take several days depending on how close the race is and how many late votes arrive by mail.
The special election process began with backers of the recall first getting 1.5 million Californians to sign petitions in favor of holding a recall election. Then, the question of whether to remove Newsom was put on the ballot.
If more than 50% of voters say Newsom should be unseated, then the candidate with the most votes on the second question – even if less than a majority – automatically replaces Newsom for the remainder of his four-year term.
Republican radio host and Trump supporter Larry Elder leads the slate of 46 replacement candidates. Elder, who has high visibility from his frequent appearances on conservative Fox News, has vowed to remove requirements for vaccines and mask wearing.
The campaign to oust the Democratic governor was started by a conservative Republican group and gained steam during the pandemic. Conservatives, angered by Newsom’s liberal policies on LGBTQ rights, immigration and crime, were infuriated by his decision to close schools and require masks and vaccinations against COVID-19.
“His policies on COVID have been disastrous. He’s not fighting for freedom of choice, which is what Americans want,” said Michael Conners, 54, a Republican handyman wearing a Trump hat to a polling place in Carlsbad, on the San Diego County coast, where he voted to recall Newsom.
Another voter in favor of recalling the governor cited Newsom’s pandemic response and its impact on small businesses.
“I’m a small business owner and my son was out of school almost a year,” said Republican hair salon owner Taylor Livesley, 31. “I don’t believe in vaccines being mandated.”
The removal of Newsom would likely embolden Republicans in one of the country’s most liberal states and set off alarms among Democrats, coming just over a year before the 2022 elections that will decide control of Congress.
Recall also could mean the end of Newsom’s political ambitions, widely believed to include possible runs for the U.S. Senate or the presidency. Whether Newsom survives the recall or is replaced, the next gubernatorial election will take place in November 2022.
The latest opinion polls showed Newsom with strong support. In a survey released on Friday by the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, 60.1% of likely voters said they favored retaining the governor and 38.5% opposed him staying in office.
Democrats have returned twice as many ballots as Republicans so far in a four-week early voting period, state data showed.
POLLS FAVOR NEWSOM
Newsom’s poll numbers have improved from earlier this summer, when polls showed so few Democrats were planning to vote that his job was in jeopardy in a state where Republicans make up less than a quarter of the electorate.
The polls “changed Democrats’ mindset from sitting back on the couch to saying, ‘This is something we’ve got to do,'” said Paul Mitchell, whose firm Political Data Intelligence analyzed state ballot return information.
In the Berkeley poll, Elder was supported by about 38% of those likely to vote on a replacement. Kevin Paffrath, a Democrat and YouTube host, received 10% support, followed by former Republican San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer at 8%.
Former gubernatorial nominee John Cox and Republican reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner also are on the ballot.
The last time a Republican took the helm of the overwhelmingly Democratic state was in 2003, when actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, was chosen in a recall to replace Democrat Gray Davis.
Newsom ramped up his outreach to Democrats in recent weeks, including appearing with President Joe Biden at a rally on Monday night. Newsom has tied the recall effort to Trump and said Elder would impose conservative policies on abortion, immigration, gun rights and other issues.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta in Carlsbad and Oceanside; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Cynthia Osterman, Jonathan Oatis and Kim Coghill)