After months of politicking, posturing and prognostication, polls opened Tuesday morning for Californians to decide whether Gov. Gavin Newsom should be removed from office and, if so, who should replace him.
Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder spokesman Mike Sanchez said that voting on Tuesday was off to a “good start” and about 11,000 voters had already cast ballots by 8:30 a.m. Polls opened at 7 a.m.
The race has captured the attention of a deeply divided nation and, whatever the outcome, seems set to be cited as evidence of which direction the larger political winds are blowing.
For Republicans, a successful recall would not only deal Newsom a devastating defeat, but shatter the entrenched Democratic hegemony in Sacramento. Democrats have decried the effort as an underhanded power grab and warned of potentially dire consequences should it succeed.
The stakes were apparent Monday, when President Biden joined Newsom for a final campaign stop in Long Beach — the latest high-profile Democrat to lend political weight to the governor’s cause.
“This is not hyperbole: The eyes of the nation are on California,” Biden said. “Because the decision you’re about to make isn’t just going to have a huge impact on California, it’s going to reverberate around the nation. And quite frankly, it’s not a joke, around the world.”
Though 46 candidates are listed on the ballot as potential replacements, the race for weeks has been framed as essentially a head-to-head matchup between Newsom and conservative talk show host Larry Elder, the leading Republican candidate.
Elder is pacing the field of Newsom’s opponents with 38% of support from likely voters, according to a UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll, cosponsored by the Los Angeles Times — 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 campaigned for Newsom.
Democrats have regularly likened Elder to former President Trump, and said his ascension would undermine the state’s progressive values and imperil efforts to combat climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. Elder has said he would repeal the Newsom administration’s statewide mandates for students to wear masks in public school and vaccination requirements for healthcare workers and state employees.
“We may have defeated Donald Trump, but we have not defeated Trumpism,” Newsom said during Monday’s rally. “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 Trumpism has no place here, and Trumpism will be defeated all across the United States of America, because we’re better than that.”
Republicans, though, have long objected to Newsom’s handling of the pandemic and his use of executive powers. They’ve also taken him to task for participating in a gathering last year at the upscale French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley.
Newsom’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.
For Pasadena homemaker Mary Forrest, 32, Tuesday’s vote was a matter of “patriotic duty.”
Forrest voted to oust Newsom, whom she blames for “rampant homelessness, failing schools and the shutting down of businesses.”
“When you look around the state of California, it’s just sad, really,” said Forrest, a mother of three with another on the way. “I look at my children. There’s more emphasis on homeless people than there is education of our children. That needs to change.”
Forrest did not say which candidate she voted for to replace Newsom, and pushed back on the idea that the recall election was a partisan matter.
“I’m not even Republican,” said Forrest, a libertarian. “Today is about Californians rising up and doing what’s best for the state.”
Of potential replacement candidates, Elder scored points with a few recall voters.
“Larry understands that California needs to get back to business,” Pasadena resident Bobby Charlie, 33, said. “But my vote and why I’m here is more about Newsom. There can’t be two sets of rules for him and for everyone else.”
Charlie said his brother recently closed his brewery because of heavy financial losses sustained during COVID-19 lockdowns.
“Newsom’s winery stayed opened, but regular people had to close their businesses,” Charlie said. “That’s a double standard.”
Several voters echoed the sentiment of Pasadena resident Keith Ashton, 60, who opposed the recall and left the second question blank.
“I’m not a defender of Newsom, but I think he’s done OK or as best as you can during a pandemic,” Ashton said. “He protected the state’s population with masks and shutdowns and it hurt, but it was the right thing to do.”
Ashton did not like the recall’s hefty price tag or that those advocating Newsom’s recall couldn’t wait until the 2022 election.
“A lot of this doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “This is a big waste of money and time.”
Santana Salas thought about her unvaccinated 10-year-old sister, Alina, when she cast her ballot against recalling Newsom on Tuesday morning at Jerome Center in Santa Ana.
“I’m thinking about her safety, the safety of kids who aren’t eligible for vaccination,” Salas said. “She’s the only one in our family who isn’t vaccinated right now. The pandemic is still going strong. Other states don’t have mask mandates at schools, and you can see the rise in the virus, especially in kids.”
Friends and family members in Santa Ana and Mexico have been hit hard by the virus, she said.
Salas, who graduated with a psychology degree from Cal State Fullerton a few months ago, lives with her parents and said she’s worried about her family’s health and safety. She said Newsom has done his best, given the circumstances.
“In Florida, the cases keep going up, and they have no mask mandate,” she said. “And here the cases aren’t as bad.”
Chef Nneka Nyamekye, a 45-year-old mother of three boys, said she was most concerned about education and COVID’s impact on California. She didn’t think Newsom was great on either issue, but had zero confidence in the recall candidates, especially Elder.
“He’s not going to do anything for California,” Nyamekye said. “I’ll take the lesser of two evils.”
Wanda James, a retired teacher in her 80s, voted to keep Newsom in office — equating the alternative to an unwanted intrusion of “Trumpism in disguise” into the state’s largely blue backyard.
Elder “is absolutely the wrong person to ever be governor of anything,” said James, who was wearing purple sunglasses adorned with rhinestones and a mask bearing the iconic flexing depiction of Rosie the Riveter.
Joshua Bettea, a trim 62-year-old Santa Clarita resident who also voted to keep Newsom in office, said installing a Republican governor would “backfire” in the mostly Democratic state.
If Newsom lost to a Republican challenger, Bettea said those in the state of a different political persuasion would persevere — just as they did during four years of a Trump presidency.
“There’s always a new day,” he said.
The question of succession won’t come into play unless a majority of voters decide to remove Newsom from office. The same recent Berkeley IGS/Times poll showed that 60.1% of likely voters surveyed oppose recalling Newsom compared with 38.5% in favor of ousting him — the latest source of cautious optimism for Democrats after earlier canvasses showed a much tighter race.
However, it remains to be seen whether the results of the race will be known Tuesday night. And, should Newsom prevail, some Republicans already have begun laying the groundwork to contest the election, despite no evidence of voter issues.
Times staff writers Dakota Smith, Faith E. Pinho, Seema Mehta, Julia Wick, Robin Estrin and Phil Willon contributed to this report.
Aug. 24, 2021 | 11:22 AM
When is the recall election?
What’s on the ballot?
Who’s running to replace Newsom?
Nearly four dozen candidates including 24 Republicans, 10 with no party preference, nine Democrats, two members of the Green Party and one Libertarian. Here’s what their tax returns say about them.
If a majority of voters say yes, they’d like to recall Newsom, then what happens?
The candidate with the most votes will be tapped to serve out the rest of Newsom’s term — he has about one-and-a-half years left.
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