Biden joins Newsom in Long Beach for final push against California recall

President Biden joined Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday night for a final campaign stop in Long Beach on the eve of the recall election, lending his firepower to fight against the governor’s possible ouster and underscoring the national importance of defeating the effort.

“California, I’m not sure you know it,” Biden said, “This isn’t hyperbole: The eyes of the nation are on California because of the decision you’re about to make. The decision you’re about to make is going to have a huge impact on California, and it’s going to reverberate around the nation. And, quite frankly, not a joke — around the world.”

The rally capped a long day in the West for the president, and a months-long campaign for Newsom and his opponents. Earlier in the day, Biden traveled to Boise, Idaho, and Sacramento to survey wildfire damage and discuss his administration’s response.

A pre-show lineup of dignitaries from across Democratic Party ranks — including Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison, California Democratic Party Chair Rusty Hicks and state elected officeholders — rallied the crowd of a few hundred people at Long Beach City College before the president and governor’s arrival shortly before 7 p.m.

The president’s stop in California marked the closing campaign act for Newsom, who has touted support from several high-profile Democrats in recent weeks, including former President Obama, Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Last week, Vice President Kamala Harris returned to California to rally voters for the governor.

The Biden administration has a vested interest in the recall’s outcome. A Newsom victory could lift Democrats after a politically challenging several weeks for the president, whose popularity has taken a hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s resurgence and the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. The election of a Republican governor could be devastating to Democrats nationwide, with the possibility that the new governor would appoint a replacement for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) should she retire and leave an open seat in the deeply divided Senate.

“We may have defeated Donald Trump, but we have not defeated Trumpism,” Newsom said to the crowd before Biden took the stage. “Trumpism is still on the ballot in California and that’s why it’s so important, not just for all of us here 40 million Americans strong in the nation’s largest and most populous state, but also to send a statement, all across the United States of America, that Trump has no place here, and Trumpism will be defeated for the United States of America, because we’re better than that.”

Recent polls suggest Newsom probably has little to worry about, after an early split among voters a few weeks ago developed into a strong showing of support for the first-term governor. A UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll, cosponsored by the Los Angeles Times, released Friday showed that 60.1% of likely voters surveyed oppose recalling Newsom compared with 38.5% in favor of ousting the governor.

Meanwhile, Republican front-runner Larry Elder finished a full day of campaigning around Los Angeles County, which began at Monterey Park City Hall to present a medal to a World War II veteran and discuss his campaign platform, including his support for school choice and repealing vaccination mandates. He received a warm reception from attendees, as well as former Democratic state Sen. Gloria Romero and former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, who have steadily supported him in the final weeks of his campaign.

Across the street from the civic center complex, Robert, a retired truck dispatcher who did not want to give his last name, stood on the lawn outside his American flag-festooned home holding a cardboard sign with the words “No Recall” in white paint.

He said he’d hastily made the sign an hour earlier, when he saw the campaign bus passing his house.

“Just to make my little voice heard,” he said.

Elder later headed to Philippe the Original, a French dip sandwich shop by Dodgers Stadium, to talk with voters over lunch. Excitement rippled through the tables in the back of the restaurant as news spread that the candidate would soon be arriving at the downtown L.A. institution.

Dodging French dip-laden cafeteria trays, patrons scrambled toward Elder for photos when he entered the room. Many cheered and chanted his name. Even in heavily Democratic Los Angeles, the lunch crowd at Philippe was overwhelmingly on Team Elder.

“Scientific poll right here — I’m going to win,” Elder said, as several of Stoddard’s former classmates embraced him.

Of Newsom’s opponents, Elder leads the pack with 38% of support from likely voters, according to the Berkeley IGS/Times poll — a double-digit lead over Democrat candidate and YouTube star Kevin Paffrath, who garnered 10%.

“I think I’ve energized the state, I’ve energized the party. … That’s why they’re bringing in this heavy load,” Elder said, referencing the national Democratic surrogates who have been campaigning for Newsom in recent weeks.

Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin) kicked off a “drive to election day” tour in San Diego on Monday morning, which led him to Los Angeles’ Manual Arts High School, where he taught 10th grade English and coached the debate team before beginning his career as a prosecutor turned legislator. Kiley told a handful of supporters gathered at the school that his two years as a Teach for America fellow — hoping to “provide educational opportunity and achieve educational equity” for students — motivated his run for the legislature in 2016.

“Unfortunately, that’s something that our political class has been failing at, nevermore so than over the course of the last year and a half,” he said. In a 10-minute address Monday, the assemblymember lambasted Newsom for his handling of the pandemic, including using “extraordinary emergency powers” to close schools.

Republican candidate John Cox also launched a bus tour through California, with an afternoon stop at the upscale French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley, a swipe at Newsom, who took part in a birthday gathering at the eatery last year. The governor’s attendance at the event — with several unmasked people outside his household — directly contradicted the state’s COVID-19 guidance to the public at the time, and ignited a wave of support for the recall from Californians frustrated with the governor for breaking his own rules.

Other replacement candidates finished their campaigns with a series of media interviews instead of trekking around the state. Republican former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer appeared on CNN and “Inside California Politics” over the weekend.

Some Republicans already began laying the groundwork to contest the election should Newsom win, despite no evidence of voter issues. Elder repeatedly refused to answer whether he would accept the election results if the recall effort fails. He recently added a section to his campaign website called “stop fraud” for voters to report any irregularities.

“I anticipate winning. So there won’t be any question about the results, because I’m gonna win,” Elder said at a San Pedro park Monday afternoon.

Former President Trump weighed in with a statement Monday, alluding to the 2020 presidential election which he has continued to falsely paint as having been stolen from him: “Does anybody really believe the California Recall Election isn’t rigged?”

Newsom anticipated the pushback at a rally Sunday, addressing a gathering of a couple hundred supporters in Sun Valley.

“It’s act two in the big lie. That’s what we’re up against, Democrats.”

Times staff writer Eli Stokols contributed to this report.

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