The Washington Post

In Calif., Biden goes to bat for Newsom

- BY TYLER PAGER AND SCOTT WILSON tyler.pager@washpost.com scott.wilson@washpost.com Pager reported from Boise, Idaho, and Long Beach, Calif. Wilson reported from Los Angeles.

long beach, calif. — Gov. Gavin Newsom’s final visitor before his campaign against the recall election ended Monday was also his most politicall­y important. President Biden arrived in the state with a message for California voters that keeping the incumbent in office was the most effective way to ensure a quick-aspossible end to the coronaviru­s pandemic.

Despite the advent of coronaviru­s vaccines and an easing of requiremen­ts in some places, the pandemic has again become priority one for Newsom and Biden, a pair of politicall­y vulnerable Democrats whose vaccine and mask rules have helped to revive their approval ratings.

The visit, ostensibly a political favor for Newsom, served both politician­s’ purposes for the eveof-election stage it gave them to again implore the nation to get vaccinated and wear masks. On Monday, Newsom announced that his administra­tion has spent more than $1 billion on rent and utility assistance for those affected by the coronaviru­s.

Polls in California have shown that the pandemic outpaces economic worries, wildfire fears and a deep drought as the major concern among voters. Newsom’s chief recall rival, conservati­ve radio host Larry Elder, has said he would abolish Newsom’s vaccine and mask mandates on his first day in office.

“We have 24 more hours to vote no on this Republican recall. . . . 24 more hours to send a message, a big and powerful message,” Newsom said after taking the stage at Long Beach City College. “On the other side of this recall, if we fall short, is someone that believes there should be no minimum wage. Someone who believes there should be no corporate tax. Someone that believes we should privatize Social Security.”

Newsom, now in the third year of his first four-year term, has in recent weeks taken a strong lead in the recall race as more California­ns became aware of the need to vote in September of a nonelectio­n year.

The state is overwhelmi­ngly Democratic, and the roughly 22 million-strong electorate made Newsom governor with almost 62 percent of the vote in November 2018. Some recent polls show voters defeating the recall by that margin after months when the race, obscured in part by the pandemic and an early, frightenin­g start to the wildfire season, seemed close.

Newsom, the former mayor of San Francisco, has long had approval ratings most governors would envy. He was aggressive in imposing statewide rules to slow the spread of the coronaviru­s — many of which have been vindicated with better health outcomes here than in some big antimandat­e state rivals — but he may have also made the race harder than it had to be.

Last year, after telling residents not to travel to eat with other families until the pandemic slowed, Newsom was caught at a close friend’s 50th birthday party in a county where he does not live and with a group much larger than he recommende­d. The dinner was at the French Laundry in Napa County, one of the state’s most famous Michelin-rated restaurant­s. He quickly fell on his sword. The charges of hypocrisy endured for months.

The ballot will comprise two questions. The first is: Should Newsom be recalled? If Newsom cannot win at least 50 percent of the vote, then the answer voters give to the second question — who should replace him? — will determine the next governor. Forty-six candidates qualified for the ballot. The winner only needs more votes than the second-place finisher.

The only successful recall was in 2003 when second-term Gov. Gray Davis (D) was recalled and replaced by Arnold Schwarzene­gger (R), perhaps the biggest movie star in the world at the time. There is no one on the Republican list in this race with similar star power.

Newsom and those helping him campaign, including Vice President Harris last week, have been emphasizin­g turnout as the surest way to defeat the recall. Labor unions have been door-knocking and phone-banking on Newsom’s behalf, and early mail-in ballots allowed in California elections are pointing toward Newsom defeating the recall.

According to Political Data Intelligen­ce, a firm that has been tracking the early ballot returns, about 37 percent of those who filled out mail-in ballots have returned them so far. Of those, ballots returned by Democrats are outpacing those mailed back by Republican­s by more than 2 to 1.

In addition, nearly 2 million ballots have been returned by voters who “decline to state” a party preference, although past trends show most of those votes will break toward Democrats. The results should be known by the end of Tuesday, the official Election Day.

Biden’s visit to Long Beach on Monday marks only his second in-person campaign event since taking office. In July, the president joined Virginia Democratic gubernator­ial candidate Terry Mcauliffe for an event there.

A senior White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly, said the administra­tion sees Newsom as a critical ally who “always had our backs and we’re really grateful for the opportunit­y to have his here.”

The president, the official said, particular­ly wanted to tout Newsom’s efforts to combat the pandemic amid criticism from his Republican challenger­s.

“We can’t deny that covid is definitely on the top of the ballot here, and we feel that the governor has really led,” the official said. “As we look back at the beginning of pandemic, we saw some real early leadership from him.”

In addition to the coronaviru­s, Biden highlighte­d Newsom’s record on women’s rights, as Republican-led states move to follow Texas in passing restrictiv­e abortion laws, and climate change. Before joining Newsom in Long Beach, Biden traveled to Boise, Idaho, and Mather, Calif., to meet with fire officials and to tour damage from this year’s severe wildfire season.

Biden’s trip to the West Coast, his first since taking office, followed visits to Louisiana and the Northeast in the past two weeks to survey damage from Hurricane Ida. As part of these stops, Biden has been making a more aggressive pitch for his economic agenda, which calls for billions of dollars in spending to combat climate change.

“All of you know I got to run against the real Donald Trump. Well, this year the leading Republican running for governor is the closest thing to a Trump clone that I’ve ever seen in your state,” Biden said. “He’s leading the other team. He’s the clone of Donald Trump. Can you imagine him being governor of this state? You can’t let that happen.”

But Biden largely focused on the coronaviru­s Monday night and contrasted Newsom’s efforts to curtail the pandemic with those of Republican leaders in states where coronaviru­s cases are spiking.

“There’s a real contrast between Larry Elder and the Republican­s in California and Governor Newsom,” the White House offi

cial said. “Covid is one of the most glaring examples of this comparison, but it’s not the only one, and I think you’re going to see this play out in other races across the country. We’ll see where voters land, but I think from what we’re seeing in the returns I’m encouraged.”

Newsom’s actions on the coronaviru­s have long been in lockstep with the Biden administra­tion, and as a presidenti­al candidate, Biden was supportive of the steps Newsom took at the start of the pandemic. Now, as Republican­s attack Newsom and other Democratic leaders for institutin­g vaccine mandates, Biden is joining those efforts from the federal level after months of hesitation.

On Thursday, Biden and his team took their most forceful step yet in his effort to get all Americans vaccinated. He ordered all businesses with more than 100 employees to require workers be vaccinated or submit to weekly coronaviru­s testing and said he would require most health-care facilities that accept Medicare or Medicaid funding to vaccinate their employees.

He also mandated that all federal workers be vaccinated, removing the option to be regularly tested. In total, the mandates impact tens of millions of Americans.

The backlash to the new mandates was swift. House Minority Leader Kevin Mccarthy (RCalif.) tweeted, “NO VACCINE MANDATES” on Sunday, and some Republican governors argue that Biden’s actions are unconstitu­tional and are threatenin­g to sue the administra­tion.

But several industry groups, including the Business Roundtable, endorsed Biden’s latest actions, and a Washington POST-ABC News poll released earlier this month found 52 percent of Americans support businesses requiring employees to be vaccinated compared with 45 percent who oppose such an effort.

“Send a message to the nation,” Biden said Monday. “Courage matters. Leadership matters. Science matters. Vote to keep Gavin. Get vaccinated to save lives.”

Inside the White House, top officials view the mandates as a necessary step to getting more Americans vaccinated and ending the pandemic.

“Democrats are a party of public safety and doing what’s best for our communitie­s, and so I do think that there’s a contrast,” the senior White House official said. “But as you know well, our administra­tion will work with anyone and everyone to get Americans vaccinated, to ensure that we are handling this pandemic.”

 ?? LEAH MILLIS/REUTERS ?? California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) speaks with President Biden as he arrives at Mather Airport in Mather, Calif., on Monday. In addition to campaignin­g for Newsom ahead of Tuesday’s vote, he promoted coronaviru­s vaccinatio­ns.
LEAH MILLIS/REUTERS California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) speaks with President Biden as he arrives at Mather Airport in Mather, Calif., on Monday. In addition to campaignin­g for Newsom ahead of Tuesday’s vote, he promoted coronaviru­s vaccinatio­ns.

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