The G rand T rump P arty (GTP) Takes a Shellacking—California Governor Gavin Newsom “Bigly” Beats The Right Wing Recall September 19, 2021
Let Texas and Florida under the “leadership” of GOP Governors Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis continue to fight for the “dumbest state in the Union” crown. After TX’s Abbott signed his “Red” legislature’s draconian anti-abortion law, I’d award that “prize” to his Lone Star State in a nanosecond. As I previously wrote, I feared that California, even with its strong 2:1 registered Democratic voting majority, might challenge TX for this dubious title. On 9/14/2021, CA voters went to the polls to decide whether or not to recall Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom. Newsom, who had only served two-and-a half years of his first term, was being threatened with getting booted from his post even before he could run for re-election in 2022. Under CA’s recall process, in its state Constitution since 1911, Golden State voters could remove their chief executive for any reason at any time. Under CA’s recall law, to qualify for the ballot, voters needed to submit valid signatures representing just 12% of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. The “recall Newsom” petitioners met the goal of getting the required 1,495, 709 signatures in late 4/2021 (cnn.com, Chan & Lah, 4/26/21). Had more than 50% of the voters cast ballots to recall Newsom, he could be replaced by one of 46 unelected unqualified candidates running against him who had received the most support or only a plurality of the vote. A person who won just 25% of the votes could be the next CA Governor (See latimes.com, Goldberg, 4/30/21, huffingtonpost.com, O’Connor, 9/14/21). Since 1913, 179 recall attempts of state officials had been attempted in CA. Only 11 qualified for the ballot. Six incumbents were ousted and replaced by other people running on the same ballot. In 2003, CA voters recalled Democratic Governor Gray Davis during an energy crisis that had been manipulated by the crooked Enron company and prominent GOPers. Davis’ replacement was popular actor GOPer Arnold “Terminator” Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger put the state into heavy debt that his Democratic successor Jerry Brown had to work hard to successfully erase (latimes.com, Dolan, 8/22/21).
Initially, Newsom and many fellow Democrats did not think that this latest recall attempt would go anywhere. Several recall efforts had already been mounted at the beginning of Newsom’s term and fizzled. Californians were happy with Newsom. However, in early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Even before Democrat Joe Biden’s 11/2020 presidential victory, Gov. Newsom took an aggressive approach. Unlike many Southern and Midwestern GOP Governors, Newsom enacted mask mandates for Californians. He forced businesses and schools to close and limited household gatherings. Newsom pushed for strong anti-COVID vaccination requirements and rapidly distributing these life-saving shots. He did not quickly reopen schools until strong steps for pupils’ safety had been met (See latimes.com, 9/16/21, Willon, Luna, Wick, & Money). Many Californians became upset with these disruptions. Some were indignant that Newsom ordered people to get vaccinated, especially, a vocal extremist anti-vaccination minority. Many GOPers called vaccination a “personal choice,” not a public health issue. Recall advocates won a court ruling to give them four extra months to collect the needed signatures. Recall advocates made Newsom’s going to the high-end French Laundry Napa Valley restaurant, where he dined unmasked and not socially distanced at a birthday party for political operative Jason Kinney, into the “crime of the 21st Century (See Cohen & Cook 2022).” Newsom repeatedly apologized for this bad lapse in judgment, but his opponents would not forgive him. National GOPers, including former House Speaker/rabble rouser Newt Gingrich entered the fight to help GOPers knock off a Democratic Governor in the state with the nation’s largest population, over 39 million in 2021 (worldpopulationreview.com.>states, latimes.com/opinion, 8/13/21).
Initially, polling showed that Newsom would beat the recall. After all, Democrat Biden carried CA by nearly 30 points (Reston, cnn.com, 8/14/21). However, petitioners kept collecting their signatures and received media attention. The Delta variation of the COVID-19 virus then hit CA and the rest of the nation. Subsequent polling in July, 2021 showed that the race had tightened and was in a near dead heat among likely voters (See cnn.com, Reston, 9/14/21, latimes.com). At that point, GOPers were very enthused about voting to oust Newsom. CA Democrats, exhausted from four years of Donald and the Trump-Biden race, didn’t seem to be paying much attention. According to political analysts, Trump was back in Mar-a-Lago and off the radarscope. The recall was not being held in a presidential election year or even during a normal congressional midterm contest. Too many Democrats don’t show up in off-year mayoral/school board races or even during midterms. The GOP hoped that it could get more of its voters out than Democrats could in the 9/14/2021 CA recall. Too many reporters and members of the public initially ignored Newsom’s statements that Trump extremists were behind this recall (See Reston, cnn.com, latimes.com).
In early 7/21/ 2021, the recall equation radically changed. Provocative radio talk show host Larry Elder announced he was running. Elder a reactionary with a capital “R” could not have been a more perfect foil for Gov. Newsom. With his “wackadoodle” statements, Elder was the proverbial GOP “gift that kept on giving.” Elder is black, but African American columnists in the LA Times aptly called him the “face of white supremacy.” Elder has called “blacks more racist than whites.” He has even argued that white slaveowners should have been compensated for their loss of black slaves (latimes.com)! An unabashed Trumper, Elder mentored Donald’s cruelest anti-Latino/anti-immigrant advisor Stephen Miller. Elder has made repeated anti-LGBTQ remarks. His stands against women make him an “off the chart” misogynist. He has called for overruling the pro-choice “Roe v. Wade” opinion. He declared “Roe” one of “the worst decisions the Supreme Court has ever handed down.” He has stated that women vote for Democrats because they are “less educated than men,” and has endorsed pregnancy discrimination by employers. Elder’s former fiancée, Alexandra Datig, accused him of brandishing a gun in a threatening manner during an argument (latimes.com, 8/10/21, Rainey & Mehta, politico.com, Marinucci, 8/19/21). Elder is against vaccine requirements and mask mandates, just like TX and FL GOP Governors Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis. While CA hospitalization and death rates under Newsom are declining because of mask mandates and vaccination increases, TX and FL have seen increases in their COVID illnesses and death rates. Elder bragged about hoping to put a GOPer in CA Dem. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s seat, if she retires or dies. Such an Elder appointment would give obstructionist GOP Senator Mitch McConnell a 51-49 majority. This Elder move would flip, without an election, the 50-50 tie that Californian VP Kamala Harris now breaks that gives Democrats a Senate governing majority.
Elder quickly became the front-runner in polling to replace Gov. Newsom, should he be recalled. Newsom quickly found a simple message that resonated with millions of Californians. He stated that although Trump was gone, “Trumpism” was on the ballot in the person of Larry Elder. Newsom called the recall campaign against him a “matter of life-and death” battle against Trumpism and “far-right anti-vaccine activists.” Newsom campaigned throughout the state and brought out the “heavy artillery,” Biden and Harris, to campaign for him. Senator Elizabeth Warren visited CA and Bernie Sanders cut ads for Newsom. Sanders, who had a strong connection with Hispanics, hammered them with anti-recall messages. Barack Obama also made ads for Newsom (cnbc.com, Constantino, 9/14/21). Many Democrats feared Hispanics would not show up in strong numbers or vote against Newsom. That did not happen. At least 25% of the voters in exit polls were Hispanics, a strong CA showing and an increase from previous turnouts (cnn.com 9/14/2021 broadcast).
The final results weren’t close. Newsom, who was elected as Governor in 2018 with 62% of the vote, won the recall contest, “bigly plus.” As the returns stood on 9/16/2021, 63.8% of Californians voted “NO” on recalling Newsom. Just 36.2% voted “YES” to oust him, a “h uu ge” 2, 551, 645 margin (sacbee.com, 9/16/21). Elder received 47% of the votes of those who wanted to replace him. In third place, behind Elder and second-place Kevin Paffrath, was San Diego Mayor, “moderate (LOL)” GOPer, Kevin Faulconer with 8.6%. Faulconer, “Mr. Fake Moderate,” stated he had voted for Trump in 2020, after witnessing nearly four years of Donald trying to destroy our democracy (sacbee.com, 9/16/21). Once Newsom won the “NO” recall vote, the replacement vote became moot. However, that vote gave analysts an idea whom the CA GOP minority prefers -- wacko Trumper Elder.
In a CNN exit poll, almost every major group in CA rejected the recall—whites, blacks, Latinos, and Asian-Americans. Every age group, men and women, urban and suburban residents, parents and non-parents were in the “Don’t Recall Newsom” column. Sixty-four percent of female voters and 62% of white female voters decided to keep Newsom in office. In Biden’s 2020 CA presidential victory blowout, he only won 51% of white women. Sixty percent of Latinos were for Newsom and 83% of African Americans. Only 41% of whites voted “YES” on recalling Newsom. In the 2020 presidential election, 47% of CA whites went for Trump. Whites were the group the GOP concentrated on in order to recall Newsom (cnn.com, Mitchell, L., 9/17/21). Newsom won big in CA’s cities and suburbs. About 13 million people voted, a very high turnout for an off- year election. In Los Angeles County, roughly 77% of voters opposed the recall. In San Francisco County, Newsom’s base, nearly 87% voted to keep him. LA and SF Counties are strongly “Blue.” However, in swingier San Diego County, CA’s second most populous and Faulconer’s home ground, nearly 59% of voters decided Newsom should stay. In formerly hard-right GOP Orange County, 52%, so far, have opposed the recall (nytimes.com, Cowan & Goldmacher, 9/18/21). In conservative Inland Empire Riverside and San Bernardino Counties 52.4% and 52% respectively were in Newsom’s corner (latimes.com,Willon, Luna, et al, 9/16/21). The much smaller rural northern counties and the agricultural Central Valley, traditional GOP areas, voted for the recall (Willon, et al, 9/16/21). However, in the Central Valley, a strong Latino vote against the recall kept the “YES” margins very close (See latimes.com, 9/19/21 La Ganga & Chabria).
Newsom never took this recall threat lightly. He recruited some of the most talented Democratic operatives. This group had previously worked in the campaigns of VP Kamala Harris, CA U.S. Senator Alex Padilla, and former Gov. Jerry Brown. They included Averell “Ace” Smith the campaign’s lead strategist and his partner Sean Clegg. Clegg oversaw paid media messaging for Newsom. Juan Rodriguez, who worked for Kamala Harris when she ran for president, was part of Newsom’s team. Newsom’s pollster David Binder worked for Obama and other Democrats (politico.com, Marinucci, 3/17/21). According to the strategists working for Newsom, the key to turning around this race was Newsom’s adoption of aggressive mask and vaccine mandates, both widely popular in CA, despite some vocal grousers. Newsom had a $70 million campaign war chest which he used to depict his key GOP opponent, Larry Elder as an anti-science clone of Demagogue Donald (cnbc.com, Constantino, 9/14/21). Clegg reduced Newsom’s campaign’s closing argument to “A ‘Yes’ vote for this recall means electing a pro-Trump, anti-vaccine Republican who is going to reverse the mandates on Day One.” Smith called this “simple choice” presentation the “turning point in the campaign that cemented Newsom’s victory.” By Labor Day, Newsom had turned the recall into a choice between him and Elder whom he tied with a strong chain to Trump. Within fifty minutes of the CA polls closing, Newsom’s blowout victory was called by four television networks and the Associated Press. Organized labor, including the AFL-CIO spent at least $2 million on Newsom’s behalf. They coordinated over 1,100 volunteer shifts, made 550,000 phone calls, and knocked on over 60,000 doors (cnn.com, Merica & Lah, 9/06/21). Democrats made a concerted push for their supporters to vote early. Prior to the actual 9/14/2021 election day, about 33%-39% of voters had turned in their ballots. Fifty-three percent of the early returned ballots were from Democrats v. just 25% from GOPers. In a pre-election poll taken by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, 70% of the early voters reported they had voted to keep Newsom. Among the 61% who had not yet voted, 54% opposed the recall. No CA GOP election day “surge” could overcome this Democratic juggernaut (See Skelton, 9/13/21). Newsom and his team believed if he had a general turnout in the neighborhood of 50%, he would win. Overall turnout appeared to be in the range of 55% (mercurynews.com, Deruy, 9/17/21). Remembering what happened in 2003, when Dem. Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante took away votes from Gray Davis and helped Schwarzenegger win, Democrats successfully kept prominent party members off the recall replacement ballot. Newsom told supporters to leave the replacement question blank. More than 40% of the ballots counted did (mercurynews.com, Deruy, 9/17/21).
Again, the key to this race, as in most political ones, is getting Democrats to turnout in droves. The fear of having a Trump clone like Elder become Governor drove many Democrats to vote. There is nothing wrong with using fear as a motivating power to get out your base when the fearful facts, as with Elder and the other GOP replacement candidates, are true. Negative campaigning works. Newsom “ran up the score” with his “h uu ge” blowout, giving the GOP a humungous CA shellacking. Newsom’s recall victory is on track to be even larger than the 24-point win he secured against GOPer John Cox in 2018. Cox also ran against Newsom in the recall and received a poor 4.4% of the vote (sacbee.com, 9/16/21). Right now, Newsom would easily beat the four main GOP challengers he faced in the recall, Elder, Faulconer, Cox and Kiley should they try to run against him in 2022. Remember, 2022 is politically eons away. Newsom and his fellow Democrats can never take anything for granted, especially turnout (See latimes.com, Willon, 9/17/2021).
What can we learn from Newsom’s CA victory that can help Democrats keep the House and Senate in the midterms and gain governorships and legislative seats where Democratic majorities hang by a thread? I repeat for the umpteenth time that the key in any election is the “T” word, “turnout.” In his 9/14/2021 victory speech, Gov. Newsom declared, “No was not the only thing we said tonight… as a state, we said ‘yes’ to science. We said ‘yes’ to vaccines. We said yes to ending this pandemic (rev.com/blog /transcripts, 9/15/21).” In this speech as well as throughout his previous campaigning, Newsom, attacked everything the GTP, the G rand T rump P arty stood for. Newsom said his campaign stood for pluralism, inclusion, economic, racial, environmental, and social justice. He stated that his “YES” vote stood against voter suppression and a woman’s “fundamental, constitutional right to decide for herself what she does with her body (rev.com/blog).” Of course, Trump and his “Mini Me” followers, Larry Elder, TX’s Gov. Abbott, FL’s Gov. DeSantis, VA Republican “Trumpbot” 11/2021 gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin, and a slew of other GOPers blatantly oppose all of these issues. The CA recall attempt demonstrated that the Democratic base can still be roused to vote against Trump and Trumpism. It does not matter that Napoleonic Trump stews in exile in FL. Trumpism, as Newsom and Biden noted, is still “alive and well.” However, in order to win in swingy and more “purple” states, Democrats must also pull independent/college educated voters not normally affiliated with them into their camp. They can do this by branding the GOP as the anti-science” party. The Delta variant of the coronavirus is still raging, and many people in “Red” States and “Red” areas are refusing to wear masks, socially distance themselves, or get the life-saving vaccines. Newsom’s anti-recall pitch that his vaccine and mask mandates have lessened the spread of this plague played well in CA. Nearly 32% of the CA electorate said that the coronavirus issue was the top issue in the recall exit polls (cnn.com, Enten, 9/19/21). Of those voters labeling the coronavirus the top issue, Newsom won their votes by an 81% -19% margin (Enten). Newsom attacked Elder and his fellow GOPers for trying to ease COVID mandates and make CA into another FL and TX where the virus and its death rates are surging. Newsom’s campaign polling showed that requiring vaccines for teachers and allowing businesses to impose vaccine verification for customers received at least an overwhelming 60% approval. A Pew Research Poll taken last month found that 62% of Americans believed the public health benefits because of coronavirus restrictions have been worth the cost. Sixty-three percent of Americans support mask mandates in schools, according to a CNN poll (Enten, cnn.com, 9/19/21). Biden and his fellow Democrats should continue to endorse strong mandates and run on this in 2022. Even if the pandemic decreases by 11/2022, the Democrats should keep labelling the GOP as the extreme “anti-science” party, a brand that should sting much more than GOP cries of Democrats being “socialists” or “anti-police,” according to Newsom pollster Binder (latimes.com, Mason & Hook, 9/16/21). And regardless of party, vaccinated voters were more likely to oppose the Newsom recall than unvaccinated ones (latimes.com, Mason & Hook).
Now that this recall is over and the memories of it remain fresh in our minds, Californians should make some changes in this 1911 state constitutional enactment. According to the CA Department of Finance, the Newsom recall election cost the state about $276 million, one colossal waste of money. Some legitimate ideas for recall reform include increasing the threshold for signatures to recall a governor from a mere 12% of the voter turnout from the last CA gubernatorial election to at least 20% or 25%. Another idea would be to have the Lt. Governor take over if the Governor is recalled. This action would keep an experienced politician at the helm of the state, and not turn it over to some laughable “clown car” replacement. These replacement candidates got on the ballot by paying just a $4,200 filing fee or getting 7,000 signatures (cnn.com, Bradner & Merica, 9/15/21, latimes.com, Goldberg, 4/30/21). And finally, the recall should be used only to oust a governor who has committed actual crimes, such as embezzlement or has engaged in moral turpitude as did ex-NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo. If the state legislature passes some constitutional reform of the recall process, the governor must next sign it. The public, via the referendum process, would then have to pass this measure by more than 50% of the vote (ballotpedia.org). My fellow Californians, from this Newsom recall “lemon,” let’s make some political “lemonade.”