With almost 70% of the ballots counted in the California recall election, the incumbent Governor Gavin Newsom has so far received 64% of the vote, meaning this effort has likely been unsuccessful in removing him from office. Although a number of ballots still remain to be counted, a 30-point lead all but guarantees the contest is finished.
Newsom took to the podium to celebrate his reprieve, saying that Californians voted “no” on the recall and “yes” to his administration’s goals and records:
“We said yes to all those things that we hold dear as Californians, and I would argue as Americans—economic justice, social justice, racial justice, environmental justice, our values. All of those things were on the ballot this evening.”
In what could be described as a somewhat tone-deaf congratulatory message, Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA) said that “The California recall election was a massive failure of Trumpism. The silent majority spoke. We believe in chemistry and biology and doctors; know that horse dewormer doesn’t cure COVID; and understand the virus is spread through respiratory droplets which masks help stop.”
Remembering that the recall effort gained its most signatories shortly after Governor Newsom was photographed not wearing a mask at the French Laundry restaurant, Lieu’s statement appears more boilerplate messaging than righteous vindication.
Still Fighting Trump?
The narrative from the very beginning of the Newsom campaign was that this was a “Republican recall” and that the forces of Trump were hard at work in the Golden State. Quite how true this rhetoric was remains to be proven. Democrats understand that Donald Trump is a divisive figure for their voting base and one that can ensure a loyal turnout. Rather than running on the governor’s record – as cited in his victory speech – it seems Newsom et al. were positioning themselves as the anti-Trump vanguard.
While this position has been successful in California, with Joe Biden polling in negative approval in a majority of states – most especially swing states – it appears unlikely that this will be a winning strategy in 2022 and 2024. Golden State Democrats outnumber Republicans by two to one, so the result is far from surprising, but that doesn’t mean the party can rest on its stronghold laurels.
Although Newsom is safe for now, there is some concern among Democrats that the party may not be so lucky next time. Garry South, a former senior political adviser to 2003’s recalled governor, Gray Davis, warned that nervous politicos in the Golden State are not willing to let these challenges go unanswered. Earlier this week, South said, “I have talked to several key legislators who are ready to rip apart the recall process and put it back together,” suggesting that the process by which voters can start a recall attempt may be changed to become more difficult. The reasoning, he explained, is that “Two of the last elected Democratic governors have been subjected to recall elections in the last 18 years.”
Democrats may talk the talk of democracy and accountability, but what smolders through the rhetoric is a smell of fear. When the whole of the DNC apparatus is engaged, the party is, indeed, a formidable electioneering machine. Yet, in a national election where resources are spread much thinner, the results could be quite different.
With so few wins for the Biden administration in recent weeks, the huge victory of Gavin Newsom will be lauded by the Fourth Estate as a rejection of the political right and an acceptance of President Biden’s agenda. But the success is Newsom’s alone, and he likely sees this as an opportunity for far more than just a few extra years in the governor’s mansion.
As Liberty Nation Senior Political Analyst Tim Donner wrote, “He can use his survival to declare himself a martyr for the progressive cause. He can turn a liability — the embarrassment of the first recall to hit the ballot in 18 years — into an asset, proclaiming himself the light holding back the lingering darkness of Trumpism.” And as Donner further notes:
“Most observers on the left coast believe he’s [Newsom] had his eye on the White House for years, and being governor of California and a martyr for the cause to boot provides an instant high-visibility launching pad. In addition, Biden placed several key officials from California tied to Newsom in his fledgling administration, suggesting that an eventual Newsom presidential candidacy is already in the cards.”
A Battle of Resources
In the 2018 gubernatorial race, then-incumbent Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom won almost eight million votes. Although the final tally will be lower in the recall election, it seems he still retains much of his “star power” popularity. But this result comes with the backing of the entire national apparatus of the Democratic Pary. Former President Barack Obama turned up, as did President Joe Biden, VP Kamala Harris, and a notable list of the great and good of left-wing politics.
Newsom’s campaign was funded more than five times that of his closest competitor Larry Elder. The nation’s media ran a full-frontal assault against Elder, decrying him as the “black face of white supremacy.” What will happen in 2022 when 35 other governors or gubernatorial hopefuls are vying for some of that attention? Not to mention the precarious slim majorities in the House and Senate that need to be defended.
A week is a long time in politics, and a year is an eternity. Governor Newsom is secure for now, and the Golden State will remain under Democrat control, but the fact that it took all the resources of the DNC to achieve this victory suggests the future might look very different.
Read more from Mark Angelides.
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