Gov. Gavin Newsom fights for his job in high-stakes, expensive California recall election
Recall is costing state taxpayers nearly $300M, just over a year ahead of a mandated election
California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom ended his campaign to retain his job in a recall election with a final push from U.S. President Joe Biden, who warned that the outcome of the contest could shape the country's direction on the pandemic, reproductive rights and the battle to slow climate change.
Speaking to hundreds of cheering supporters during a twilight rally in the coastal city of Long Beach, south of Los Angeles, Biden on Monday referred to the leading Republican candidate Larry Elder, a longtime radio host, as "the clone of Donald Trump."
"Can you imagine him being governor of this state?" Biden asked, as the crowd responded with shouts of "No, no!"
"You can't let that happen. There is too much at stake."
Newsom, 53, needs a majority vote in Tuesday's recall vote to hold on to his job as leader of one of the world's biggest economies, and the recall result could have national implications just over a year ahead of U.S. Congress midterm elections. The winner could potentially have the authority to appoint someone should Sen. Dianne Feinstein, 88, not be able to finish her term in D.C., though Feinstein has indicated she plans to serve at least through the 2024 election.
Newsom is the fourth governor in U.S. history and the second in California to face a recall, and a loss would seem to irreparably harm any presidential ambitions he might possess. Californians removed Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 and replaced him with Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Voters take up 2-question ballot
Since Newsom took office in 2019 after taking 62 per cent of the last election's vote, he's faced a half-dozen recall efforts overall, which Democrats have characterized as being indicative of a process that is prone to abuse and doesn't reflect the will of the majority. Republicans secured the needed signatures in this effort to trigger an election — a formula that is equivalent of just 12 per cent of the votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election, or about 1.5 million votes overall.
The recall is costing California taxpayers at least $276 million US, according to the state's department of finance, and is taking place just 14 months before the next mandated gubernatorial election, on Nov. 8, 2022.
Voters are being asked two questions: Should Newsom be recalled, Yes or No. If he is ousted, the second question concerns who should replace him. The results of the second question are irrelevant if a majority of voters support retaining Newsom.
It is possible for Newsom to finish with 49 per cent on the first question, but be removed from office in favour of a candidate who emerges with a small plurality of support on the second question, as there are over 40 candidates on the ballot.
Republicans have criticized Newsom relentlessly for rising taxes, an unchecked homeless crisis, climbing crime rates and housing prices that are out of reach for many in the working class. The recall gained momentum largely out of frustration with state COVID-19 restrictions that shuttered schools and businesses and cost millions of jobs, with Newsom making an unforced error by being caught in apparent contradiction of state restrictions in late 2020 while dining at a high-priced restaurant with several advisers.
But Newsom's ouster would be a stunning rebuke in heavily Democratic California, where the party controls every statewide office, dominates the legislature and congressional delegation, and holds a nearly 2-to-1 advantage in registered voters.
Newsom's advisers expressed increasing confidence that the governor would survive the effort to drive him out of office more than a year before the end of his first term. The campaign had 25,000 volunteers on the streets over the weekend, and has sent 31 million text messages to voters.
Recent polling has shown Newsom holding an edge in his bid to save his job.
"There's no scenario where we lose tomorrow," Newsom strategist Sean Clegg said.
Elder campaign floats voter fraud allegations
While Caitlyn Jenner made a splash by announcing a run for governor earlier this year, the opposition to Newsom has coalesced around Elder.
Elder, 69, staged his final rally in nearby Orange County, where he urged his supporters to reach out to friends and neighbours and urge them to vote. The Republicans will need a heroic election day turnout to catch Democrats who have been turning in mail ballots in larger numbers. Nearly eight million Californians already have cast mail-in ballots.
"Make sure you have your friends vote, vote, vote, and try and get 10 more friends to vote and hit every call, make every call, knock on every door. We're gonna win this thing if we turn out the vote," Elder said from a hotel ballroom in Costa Mesa.
Elder's campaign website has linked to a "Stop CA Fraud" site where people could sign a petition demanding a special legislative session to investigate the "twisted results," well before any results were announced. It states that "instances of undocumented ballots have been discovered prior to the election date of September 14."
Asked to provide evidence of any suspicious voting activity, Elder campaign spokeswoman Ying Ma said that "we all want every proper vote to be counted" and "whatever shenanigans there are will not stand in the way of him becoming the next governor."
With files from CBC News