California Gov. Gavin Newsom cleverly dodged an impeachment attempt by Republicans on Tuesday after shifting the stakes in the contest from a referendum on his own performance to a partisan fight for Trumpism and the coronavirus.
California’s recall election was America’s first significant political contest for Joe Biden’s presidency and served as a stress test for both parties ahead of next year’s midterm elections that will determine whether Biden’s Democratic Party can retain control. congressional.
Biden appeared at a campaign rally for Newsom the night before the polls closed, pushing for key Democratic policy proposals in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and wildfires.
The rejection of the Republican-driven recall and top Republican challenger Larry Elder is a sign that candidates aligned with former President Donald Trump will fight for votes on key U.S. political battlefields like California’s former Republican stronghold. , Orange County suburbs.
Four takeaways from Newsom’s victory:
COVID Precautions May Help Democrats
Republicans intended the recall to be a referendum on California’s Democratic government and the homelessness, crime, high housing costs and energy problems that accompanied it. But with a bit of political maneuvering, and with the help of the expanding delta variant, Newsom turned it into a referendum on Republican opposition to coronavirus precautions.
Republicans running to replace Newsom opposed the mask and vaccine mandates, and the California governor was happy to highlight that. Newsom ran an ad calling the withdrawal “a matter of life and death” and accused the leading Republican candidate, radio host Larry Elder, of “selling deadly conspiracy theories.”
Ironically, the recall gained traction after Newsom was caught in November at a lobbyist’s birthday party at a posh Napa Valley restaurant, without a mask, and at a large party that violated his own social distancing orders. But his strategists have been arguing for weeks that his leadership during the pandemic is to his advantage, and that other Democrats shouldn’t be afraid to lead on the issue.
In his comments after winning, Newsom kept the emphasis on the virus. “I want to focus on what we said yes as a state: we said ‘yes’ to science, we said ‘yes’ to vaccines, we said ‘yes’ to end this pandemic,” the governor told reporters.
Republican Party Revives Unfounded Claims of Election Fraud
The unsubstantiated claims by Republicans about voter fraud will not go away anytime soon.
Even while ballots were still being cast, Republicans claimed the elections were “rigged.” It was an unfounded accusation, and strange considering that Republicans performed relatively well under the same electoral system as California in November, garnering four seats in Congress.
But the false rhetoric of former President Donald Trump’s electoral fraud has quickly infiltrated Republican politics. The former president enthusiastically added his own voice to the claims. And, several days before the polls closed, Elder’s campaign strangely began circulating a link to a petition demanding an investigation into his loss, alleging widespread fraud, which some Republicans feared was a message his voters shouldn’t even have. bother to show up on Tuesday.
Impeachment was always a long shot in a state where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by nearly two to one and where the Republican Party has not won a state election since 2006. But the Republicans’ turn to theories of Conspiracy and unsubstantiated fraud claims to explain a loss that polls had indicated would come for months shows that the party will not shy away from those suspicions. That led to the Jan.6 attack on the United States Capitol after Trump’s defeat.
In particular, Elder appeared to try to walk away from the inflammatory election allegations Tuesday night. In his concession speech, he told his fans: “Let’s be nice in defeat.”
Still, some Californians worry about what might happen in their state.
“This will be the second consecutive election in which there will be aggressive emotional charges of voter fraud,” said Mindy Romero, director of the Center for Inclusive Democracy at the University of Southern California. “I can’t see a positive in that.”
No light at the end of the tunnel for the California Republican Party
The recall offered California Republicans their only plausible chance at a state office in one of America’s most Democratic states. The withdrawal is a way to avoid a head-to-head showdown that would send voters back to their usual partisan corners.
That’s what happened in 2003 when Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger won a recall against Democratic Gov. Gray Davis. Schwarzenegger’s dovish politics would never have won a Republican primary, but it was attractive enough to voters fed up with the incumbent. Some Republicans expected that to happen again this year, with former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a moderate, on the ballot.
But there were two problems for the Republican Party. First, California is very different now compared to 2003: it is more liberal and more diverse. There are more than three million registered Democrats in the state now than during the last retirement, and nearly 400,000 fewer Republicans.
Second, Faulconer never noticed. Instead, Elder’s bombastic style, honed over his decades on the radio and echoing Trump, brought him to the top of the Republican pack. Newsom, feeling a favorable contrast, began hitting Elder on the airwaves.
Some Republicans hoped that Elder’s populist approach, who is African-American, could appeal to California’s diverse electorate. But that doesn’t seem to have worked.
“Larry Elder was exactly what Gavin Newsom needed,” said Rob Stutzman, a veteran Republican strategist from California.
Uncertain model for congressional by-elections
Democrats proved that they could present their voters even when their party was in the White House, a traditionally difficult feat, which is why the ruling party often loses seats in Congress in midterm elections. Republicans are trying to win back the House and Senate. Turnout in the recall was expected to be high – some experts predicted it will be in the neighborhood of the more than 12 million who voted in 2018 in California.
Ultimately, the recall was a referendum on Newsom and how Californians wanted their state to be governed, particularly in regards to the coronavirus, an issue the governor has a lot of influence on. The midterm elections will be a referendum on Biden. The power that the Republican Party could win, control of Congress, is not the executive branch, where the coronavirus regulations to date come from.
It’s not clear that Democrats can mount the same defense for Congress that they did for their governor in the nation’s most populous state.