USA TODAY International Edition

Newsom easily fends off recall attempt

- Christal Hayes Contributi­ng: Tom Coulter, The Desert Sun; The Associated Press

California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s victory in Tuesday’s election is likely to be a boon for Democrats in upcoming races. Newsom stayed focused on coronaviru­s mandates – policies that started the push to remove him from office – as well as abortion, workers rights and former President Donald Trump, all of which are expected to be key issues in midterm elections next year.

LOS ANGELES – Gov. Gavin Newsom easily fended off a historic attempt to recall him from leading the nation’s most populous state, an effort that threatened to shift California’s role as a liberal trendsette­r and would have sent shockwaves through the Democratic Party.

Newsom, a Democrat who had been heralded as a potential presidenti­al contender, found himself at the center of the country’s divisions over COVID- 19 and mandates aiming to keep people safe. He was applauded for his work at the beginning of the pandemic, leading the first state to shut down. But after months of tight restrictio­ns and public flubs, that same work helped ignite the effort that led to the fourth gubernator­ial recall election in U. S. history.

Newsom needed to convince more than half of voters that he should remain in office, which he easily managed. Elections experts cautioned results could take time in the state, which is known for taking weeks to count ballots.

But less than an hour after polls closed in the state, Newsom was declared the winner by The Associated Press, NBC News and CNN.

“I’m humbled and grateful to the millions and millions of California­ns that exercised their fundamenta­l right to vote, and expressed themselves so overwhelmi­ngly by rejecting the division,” Newsom said after the race was called in his favor, noting the election sent a message to the rest of the country.

His ability to keep hold of the state in an off- year election with rules that could have allowed him to be replaced with someone garnering just 20% of the vote is likely to embolden Democrats. The first- term governor centered the race around several issues that could be key in 2022: COVID- 19 mandates, abortion, workers rights and former President Donald Trump.

Only twice in U. S. history had a governor been removed from office via recall; in North Dakota in 1921; and in California in 2003, when Gray Davis was removed and replaced by Arnold Schwarzene­gger.

Voters were asked two questions on their ballot: Should Newsom be recalled? If more than 50% of voters said yes, then the next question was key: Who should replace him?

Forty- six candidates appeared on the ballot. Republican front- runner and conservati­ve radio host Larry Elder had consistent­ly been leading polls among those vying to replace Newsom.

Other prominent Republican candidates who ran included Caitlyn Jenner, a former Olympic gold medalist who starred on the reality series “Keeping Up with the Kardashian­s”; former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer; California Assemblyma­n Kevin Kiley; and John Cox, a businessma­n who was easily defeated by Newsom in the 2018 gubernator­ial election.

The only leading Democratic candidate who had emerged in the race was Kevin Paffrath, a real estate broker and YouTube personalit­y.

But Elder, like other major candidates in the race, conceded before Tuesday night was over and acknowledg­ed Newsom’s win.

“We may have lost the battle, but we will win the war,” Elder told supporters Tuesday night in Costa Mesa, about 40 miles south of Los Angeles.

When the crowd booed at the mention of Newsom’s name, Elder told supporters to be “gracious in defeat.”

What did voters think?

The campaign to recall Newsom largely centered on his COVID- 19 policies. California became one of the epicenters of the COVID- 19 outbreak last year, despite the governor employing some of the strictest mandates in the country.

Critics said he was heavy- handed, shuttering businesses and keeping children out of classrooms for longer than necessary. Newsom said his actions saved lives.

“I am angry. It should be a freedom of choice. What is this? A dictatorsh­ip?” asked Janet Webb, a 69- year- old Lafayette, California, resident who voted for Elder.

She said squabbles over Newsom’s handling of the pandemic have split her family and friends and may prompt her to move out of state.

“I can’t live here like this if they’re going to force everyone to get a vaccine,” Webb said.

Briana Mendoza, 30, said the last thing California needs is more turmoil. She voted to keep Newsom.

“We’re in the middle of a pandemic. Why would we recall the governor who has been really trying to curb the spread of the virus?” the San Diego social worker said.

Mendoza does not believe Newsom brought the recall upon himself by attending a birthday party at The French Laundry, an upscale Napa Valley restaurant, last fall in violation of his own administra­tion’s coronaviru­s rules.

Instead, she thinks the effort to unseat him is a backlash by a small minority of Republican­s in a firmly Democratic state.

“We don’t want Elder in office,” she said. “This is ridiculous. We just got Trump out. We don’t want a Trump puppet.”

Voters’ priorities split along party lines

Exit polls showed COVID- 19 was the top issue for voters, followed by homelessne­ss, the economy, wildfires and crime.

The exit poll, conducted by Edison Research for several media outlets, found about a third of voters listed COVID- 19 as the top issue in determinin­g how they voted.

But the issue split along party lines: More than 2 in 5 Democrats said COVID- 19 was their top issue, compared to about 1 in 5 Republican­s.

Conversely, Republican voters were more than three times as likely as Democrats to list the economy as their top issue.

Voters offered mixed reactions to the pandemic’s current trajectory in California, with about 2 in 5 saying the situation is improving, 3 in 10 saying that it remains about the same, and just under one- quarter saying that it’s getting worse.

The findings largely align with recent polling regarding voters’ top priorities. In a recent poll from the Public Policy Institute of California, COVID- 19 again topped the list of issues important to the state’s voters.

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 ?? JEFF CHIU/ AP ?? California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to volunteers in San Francisco. He became the second governor in U. S. history to defeat a recall aimed at kicking him out of office early, a contest the Democratic governor crafted as part of a national battle for his party’s values in the face of the coronaviru­s pandemic.
JEFF CHIU/ AP California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to volunteers in San Francisco. He became the second governor in U. S. history to defeat a recall aimed at kicking him out of office early, a contest the Democratic governor crafted as part of a national battle for his party’s values in the face of the coronaviru­s pandemic.

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