Gavin Newsom to remain California governor after winning recall vote

Voters resoundingly reject choice to replace Democrat with Trumpist Republican

Californian governor Gavin Newsom reacts to the news that the recall effort against him had failed. Photograph: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Californian governor Gavin Newsom reacts to the news that the recall effort against him had failed. Photograph: Jim Wilson/The New York Times


California governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday defeated a Republican-led effort to recall him from office over his handling of the Covid-19 crisis after rallying the state’s Democrats with a call to defeat “Trumpism”.

Preliminary results showed 67.3 per cent of California voters rejected the effort to recall the first-term Democrat from the governor’s office, according to the secretary of state.

Mr Newsom faced 46 challengers on the ballot, including Larry Elder, host of a syndicated conservative radio show, who was the frontrunner among the candidates seeking to replace him.

In the final days of the campaign Mr Newsom charged that Mr Elder’s views, which included eliminating the minimum wage, restricting abortion rights and ending California’s mask and vaccine mandates, did not fit with California’s values. He claimed that Mr Elder, a Trump supporter, would allow the former president’s policies to take hold in the heavily Democratic state.

“Economic justice, social justice, racial justice, environmental justice, our values where California has made so much progress, all of those things were on the ballot this evening,” Mr Newsom said in his victory speech on Tuesday night.

The defeat extended a losing streak for California’s formerly powerful Republican party, once home to Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. The party has not won a statewide election since 2006.

For Mr Newsom, a wealthy businessman who served as San Francisco mayor and lieutenant-governor, the solid victory buttresses his standing ahead of his re-election campaign next year. Mr Newsom’s win is also good news for President Joe Biden, who travelled to California on the eve of Tuesday’s vote to rally voters for the governor.

Easing concerns

Mr Biden’s national approval ratings have fallen sharply but the easy Mr Newsom win will ease concerns of a backlash against the president’s policies, including his measures to arrest the spread of the Delta variant of Covid-19.

It could also reassure US Democrats that the political environment is not necessarily stacked against them ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. The California recall vote was, however, an imperfect litmus test of the national mood because the state has turned increasingly Democratic in recent years – and because of the unusual nature of the contest.

National Democrats will look at Mr Newsom’s victory as a possible template for elections because of the California governor’s success at depicting Mr Elder as a Trump-friendly conservative with extreme views.

Mr Biden took aim at Mr Elder on Monday night during his campaign stop with Mr Newsom, comparing his policies on climate change, women’s rights and other issues with those of his predecessor in the White House. “You either keep Gavin Newsom as your governor or you get Donald Trump,” he said. “That’s not a joke.”

Recall efforts have been launched against every California governor since 1960. Only two have met the threshold number of signatures for an election: this year and in 2003, when Democrat Gray Davis was recalled and replaced by the actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Five attempts

Mr Newsom saw off five previous Republican-led attempts to recall him, with backers initially citing his positions on immigration as a reason for removal.

The sixth effort garnered enough signatures after news emerged that he had dined unmasked at the French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley while urging restraint on the public. His standing fell amid frustration at the state’s Covid-19 restrictions, including lengthy public school closures and bans on dining outdoors.

His critics have also attacked his response to the droughts, wildfires, crime and homelessness that have plagued California – problems that will not go away with the recall effort.

The recall vote has cost the state more than $275 million. The state’s Democrats are expected to attempt to reform California’s 110-year-old rules governing recalls. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021