• September 24, 2021

Exclusive: California Gov. Gavin Newsom defeats recall vote in a landslide

 Exclusive: California Gov. Gavin Newsom defeats recall vote in a landslide

The campaign to remove Newsom from office in solidly Democratic California looked very much like a longshot after it became clear in late April that it would make the ballot thanks to the state’s low signature requirements, but Democrats grew worried over the summer that the effort posed a real danger to the governor. While California had grown significantly bluer since Democratic Gov. Gray Davis was ejected and replaced by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger in a 2003 recall, Newsom’s allies feared that apathy and complacency could keep their voters at home. Democrats also fretted that a resurgent pandemic and the state’s deadly fire season could erode support for Newsom at the worst possible moment.

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While polling as late as June showed the recall failing by double digits, a series of surveys starting in mid-July with the “no” side only narrowly ahead, and especially an independent poll from SurveyUSA in August that actually had “yes” prevailing by a 51-40 margin, only amped up Team Blue’s anxiety. Some Republicans, meanwhile, hoped that Elder, who was a nationally syndicated radio host and frequent Fox guest, would energize their own base and help them pull off an upset.

Elder had emerged as the undisputed frontrunner over intra-party rivals like former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who for years had been regarded as one of the GOP’s only rising stars in the state; 2018 gubernatorial nominee John Cox, who briefly attracted national attention when he campaigned with a 1,000 pound black bear; Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, who self-published a book urging voters to recall Newsom; and reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner, who actually abandoned the campaign trail to film a season of “Celebrity Big Brother” in Australia. But if Elder did help Republicans turn out their voters, it came at a huge cost to the GOP.

The well-funded Newsom, who outspent opponents almost two-to-one, worked hard to frame the recall as a choice between a Democratic governor who was taking the pandemic seriously and an extremist opponent of vaccine and mask mandates. Elder himself also was only too happy to campaign as a far-right Donald Trump supporter in a state that Joe Biden had carried 63-34. Among many other things, the radio host declared there were “shenanigans” in the 2020 election; said he would appoint a Republican should Democrat Dianne Feinstein’s Senate seat become vacant; and stood by his 2002 writings asking, “Are there legitimate business reasons for a venture capitalist to ask a female entrepreneur whether and when she intends to have children? Hell, yes.”

Polls in the final weeks overwhelmingly showed Newsom well ahead, though it remains unclear if his summertime swoon was the result of off-base polling or a temporarily disengaged electorate. Prominent Republicans, though, saw where the race was heading and loudly spread lies about the legitimacy of Newsom’s upcoming victory even before the election. Trump insisted the day ahead of the vote that the contest was “probably rigged,” while Elder promoted a website claiming that he’d “detected fraud” that had “result[ed] in Governor Gavin Newsom being reinstated as governor”—five days before polls closed.

election recaps

Boston, MA Mayor: While a major delay in election night reporting meant that very few ballots were tabulated when we put the Digest to bed, all the major candidates are acting like the Nov. 2 general election will be a battle between City Councilors Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George. Wu declared victory, while fellow City Councilor Andrea Campbell conceded and said that both Wu and Essaibi George had advanced. Acting Mayor Kim Janey also put out a statement saying that “it appears we have come up short” in her quest to keep the office.

 Cleveland, OH Mayor: Cleveland held its nonpartisan primary Tuesday, and nonprofit head Justin Bibb will face City Council President Kevin Kelley in the November general election. Bibb leads with 27% with 39,000 votes counted, while Kelley beat out former Rep. Dennis Kucinich 19-17 for second place.


CO-Gov: University of Colorado Regent Heidi Ganahl, who is the one Republican left in statewide office, announced Tuesday that she would challenge Democratic Gov. Jared Polis.

Ganahl begins as the heavy frontrunner in a primary that includes businessman Greg Lopez, who took a distant third in the 2018 nomination contest, but even she acknowledged in June that beating Polis in the general would be a “moonshot.” She has good reason to anticipate the need for an Extravehicular Mobility Unit: This one-time swing state backed Joe Biden 55-42, and a June survey from the Democratic firm Global Strategy Group had Polis beating Ganahl 54-34.

MN-Gov: Kendall Qualls, who was Team Red’s 2020 nominee for the 3rd Congressional District, did not rule out challenging Democratic Gov. Tim Walz when asked Monday. Qualls told Minnesota Public Radio’s Brian Bakst that “I haven’t even gotten to the point where I even know if there is a door to close because I’m not trying to frame one.”

NE-Gov: Republican Lt. Gov. Mike Foley is out with what appears to be his first public statement about a possible 2022 campaign to succeed his boss, termed-out incumbent Pete Ricketts, but he didn’t give us any insights into his plans.

When the Omaha World Herald’s Paul Hammel asked Foley, who was in the State Capitol at the time, about his future on Friday, he responded, “When the dust settles on the 2022 election cycle, I hope to be working in this building.” Hammel says that there’s speculation that Foley could be considering a run for state auditor, the post he held before he was elected lieutenant governor in 2014, in addition to the top job.

WI-Gov: Lobbyist Bill McCoshen said Tuesday that he’d “have some news to share in the next day or two” about his future. McCoshen, who served as a member of former Gov. Tommy Thompson’s cabinet in the mid-1990s, has been considering seeking the GOP nomination to take on Democratic incumbent Tony Evers.


AZ-02: Kirsten Engel said last week that she was resigning her seat in the state Senate in order to focus on her campaign to succeed her fellow Democrat, retiring Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick. A vacant legislative seat in Arizona is filled by appointment with a member of the party that last held it.

FL-13: 2020 nominee Anna Paulina Luna earned a GOP nomination endorsement Tuesday from Donald Trump in her second campaign for what is now an open St. Petersburg-based seat. She faces a primary that includes former lobbyist Amanda Makki, whom Luna beat 36-28 last year, and nonprofit founder Audrey Henson.

WY-AL: State Rep. ​​Chuck Gray on Tuesday became the third Republican to end his primary campaign against incumbent Liz Cheney in the days following Donald Trump’s decision to endorse a different contender, 2018 gubernatorial candidate Harriet Hageman. (You could even say he chucked his campaign.)


Atlanta, GA Mayor: The University of Georgia is out with its first poll of this November’s nonpartisan primary for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and it finds former Mayor Kasim Reed and City Council President Felicia Moore well ahead in the race for the two spots in the all-but-assured runoff. Reed, who was termed-out in 2018, leads Moore 24-20, while none of the other candidates take more than 6% of the vote each.

We’ve seen three other surveys of this contest, but while they’ve all found Reed and Moore positioned to advance, there is some disagreement on how other contenders are doing. In late July, a SurveyUSA poll for 11Alive News had Reed out in front with 17%, with Moore edging out little-known candidate Walter Reeves 10-6 for second. However, a mid-August poll for 20/20 Insight, which the AJC said was “conducted independently of any campaign,” had Moore in the lead with 21% while Reed tied City Councilman Andre Dickens 15-15 for the second runoff spot.

Late in the month, a Moore internal from Brilliant Corners also found her in first with 24% while Reed outpaced Dickens by a wide 19-6.

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