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CA Gov. Newsom Avoids GOP-Led Recall   09/15 06:05

   California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday emphatically defeated a recall aimed 
at kicking him out of office early, a contest the Democrat framed as part of a 
national battle for his party's values in the face of the coronavirus pandemic 
and continued threats from "Trumpism."

   SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday 
emphatically defeated a recall aimed at kicking him out of office early, a 
contest the Democrat framed as part of a national battle for his party's values 
in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and continued threats from "Trumpism."

   Newsom bolted to a quick victory boosted by healthy turnout in the 
overwhelmingly Democratic state. He cast it as a win for science, women's 
rights and other liberal issues, and it ensures the nation's most populous 
state will remain in Democratic control as a laboratory for progressive 

   "'No' is not the only thing that was expressed tonight," Newsom said. "I 
want to focus on what we said 'yes' to as a state: We said yes to science, we 
said yes to vaccines, we said yes to ending this pandemic."

   With an estimated two-thirds of ballots counted, "no" on the question of 
whether to recall Newsom was ahead by a 30-point margin. That lead was built on 
votes cast by mail and in advance of Tuesday's in-person balloting, with a 
strong showing by Democrats. While likely to shrink somewhat in the days ahead 
as votes cast at polling places are counted, Newsom's lead couldn't be overcome.

   Republican talk radio host Larry Elder almost certainly would have replaced 
Newsom had the recall succeeded, an outcome that would have brought a polar 
opposite political worldview to Sacramento.

   The recall turned on Newsom's approach to the pandemic, including mask and 
vaccine mandates, and Democrats cheered the outcome as evidence voters approve 
of their approach. The race also was a test of whether opposition to former 
President Donald Trump and his right-wing politics remains a motivating force 
for Democrats and independents, as the party looks ahead to midterm elections 
next year.

   Republicans had hoped for proof that frustrations over months of pandemic 
precautions would drive voters away from Democrats. The GOP won back four U.S. 
House seats last year, success that Republican leaders had hoped indicated 
revived signs of life in a state controlled by Democrats for more than a decade.

   But a recall election is an imperfect barometer -- particularly of national 
trends. Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2-to-1 in California, so the 
results may not translate to governors in toss-up states or reflect how voters 
will judge members of Congress next year.

   Trump, who had largely stayed out of the contest, made unsubstantiated 
claims that the election was rigged in the closing days, claims echoed by 
Elder's campaign. Elder did not mention fraud as he addressed his supporters 
after the results were in.

   "Let's be gracious in defeat. We may have lost the battle, but we are going 
to win the war," he said, later adding that the recall has forced Democrats to 
focus on issues such as homelessness and California's high cost of living.

   Newsom for months had likened the recall to efforts by Trump and his 
supporters to overturn the presidential election and a push in Republican-led 
states to restrict voting access.

   "Democracy is not a football, you don't throw it around. It's more like -- I 
don't know -- an antique vase," Newsom said after his win. "You can drop it, 
smash it into a million different pieces -- and that's what we're capable of 
doing if we don't stand up to meet the moment and push back."

   He became the second governor in U.S. history to defeat a recall, cementing 
him as a prominent figure in national Democratic politics and preserving his 
prospects for a future run. Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker survived a 
recall in 2012.

   California voters were asked two questions: Should Newsom be recalled, and, 
if so, who should replace him? Only a handful of the 46 names on the 
replacement ballot had public recognition, but most failed to gain traction 
with voters.

   Elder entered the race just two months ago and quickly rose to the top of 
the pack. But that allowed Newsom to turn the campaign into a choice between 
the two men, rather than a referendum on his performance.

   Newsom seized on Elder's opposition to the minimum wage and abortion rights 
as evidence he was outside the mainstream in California. The governor branded 
him "more extreme than Trump," while President Joe Biden, who campaigned for 
Newsom, called him "the closest thing to a Trump clone I've ever seen."

   Though the contest didn't quite bring the circus-like element of 
California's 2003 recall -- when voters replaced Democratic Gov. Gray Davis 
with Republican movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger -- it featured quirky moments 
of its own.

   Reality TV star and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner entered the race but 
gained little momentum and left the state for part of the campaign to film a 
reality show in Australia. Businessman John Cox, who lost badly to Newsom in 
2018, tried to spice up his campaign by hiring a live bear to join him, 
branding himself as the "beast" to Newsom's "beauty."

   Newsom will soon be campaigning again; he's up for reelection next year.

   Orrin Heatlie, the Republican who launched the recall effort last year, cast 
it as a "David and Goliath" battle and said it was telling that Newsom had 
called on national Democrats like Biden to "salvage his damaged political 

   The president and other prominent Democrats offered Newsom support in the 
race's closing days, while national Republican leaders largely kept the contest 
at arm's length.

   The recall needed 1.5 million signatures to make the ballot out of 
California's 22 million registered voters. It never would have come before 
voters if a judge hadn't given organizers four extra months to gather 
signatures due to the pandemic. That decision came the same day Newsom attended 
a maskless dinner at the lavish French Laundry restaurant with lobbyists and 
friends, stirring outcry.

   Supporters of the recall expressed frustration over monthslong business 
closures and restrictions that kept most children out of classrooms. Rising 
homicides, a homelessness crisis and an unemployment fraud scandal further 
angered Newsom's critics.

   But the broader public stayed on his side. Polling from the Public Policy 
Institute of California showed his approval rating remaining above 50% 
throughout the pandemic. With weeks to go, the institute's poll showed 60% of 
Californians approved of Newsom's handling of the pandemic.

   The rise of the highly contagious delta variant led Newsom to frame the race 
as one of "life or death" consequences. He pointed to Texas and Florida, which 
were seeing worsening surges as their Republican governors rejected mask and 
vaccine mandates, as cautionary tales for what California could become.

   Newsom has been viewed as a potential White House contender since at least 
2004, when he defied federal law to issue marriage licenses to LGBT couples as 
mayor of San Francisco. His victory maintained those prospects, though he will 
still have to navigate around the ambitions of Harris, who came up through San 
Francisco politics alongside Newsom.

   He came to the contest with advantages. California's electorate is less 
Republican, less white and younger than it was in 2003, when voters booted the 
Democratic Davis. Newsom was allowed to raise unlimited funds, dwarfing his 
competitors while flooding TV screens with advertising. Public worker unions 
and business and tech executives poured millions into his campaign.

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