Monday, September 13, 2021

California Governor Recall Election

California Governor

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2020 Presidential Result: Blue State (West)

Outlook: Likely Democrat

When all is said and done, this feels like a bit of a waste to have to right about. For sure political entertainment purposes, this show looked like it had the potential for extreme drama and a potential political cluster-something of all time about a month and a half ago. The circumstances have calmed however, and by late tomorrow night, it should be clear that Democrat Gavin Newsom will not have to vacate his office.

Recalls are a weird political animal. In American history, two Governors have been recalled, one way 100 years ago in North Dakota and famously, 18 years ago in California, which saw an unpopular Democrat recalled and celebrity Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger emerge among a large and colorful figure, in which his main opposition was the sitting Democrat Lt. Governor. Nine years ago, Democrats in Wisconsin had high hopes of ousting GOP Governor Scott Walker early, but he became the first state chief executive in history to survive. All the money and energy helped him win another term two years later (but ultimately did little for his Presidential ambitions.) When Walker sought yet another term in 2018, he was turned aside by the voters.

Relatively few states allow for Gubernatorial recalls. In principle, I think they are a bad idea. For the most part, voters should live with the consequences of their choices. There is always another election on the horizon, as will be the case next year in California. In extreme circumstances, public pressure for resignation or the impeachment process should be used, as it was in my state of Illinois several years back, or most recently against the disgraced Andrew Cuomo of New York who eventually resigned.

Governor Newsom easily won his office in 2018. While the state has a somewhat unique electoral system that could easily produce two members of the same party facing off in a general election, he was lucky enough to face a weak Republican in an overwhelmingly and increasingly blue state. Newsom looks like a tv show version of a politician and came into office with an ambitious liberal agenda. There has been much dissatisfaction with him though, at least in some parts of the state, regarding water and fire issues and the feeling that Newsom was overly arrogant. This problem increased after the Coronavirus pandemic emerged as the biggest issue facing government. The Governor enacted tough shut down and distancing measures, but was caught on film flaunting all of them, maskless, and with a large crowd of wealthy elites at a very expensive restaurant. Newsom would apologize for this lack of judgment but the damage had been done and he looked very much like a hypocrite.

The ability to get a recall measure on the ballot in California appears to be pretty easy, and perhaps overly so. A judge extended the deadline to gather signatures because of the pandemic and Newsom's Republican critics were able to get the measure on the ballot. To some, this felt like an exercise in futility, as most at first though there was no way that Newsom would actually be recalled. Like what happened in Wisconsin, his survival might make it more difficult to target him in the regular 2022 election. However, the unique circumstances of the recall statute pretty much gave Republicans their best hope for a fluke victory.

Elections are all about turnout and motivation. The energy to recall Newsom on the right was clearly higher at first than the desire to save him, where even many Democrats were disappointed with the Governor or took his beating back the recall for granted. Polls showed that with a low turnout, it might very well be the case that a majority of Golden State voters in this election could do to Newsom what had been done in 2003 to Gray Davis.

Here is where things get even more interesting. If the question on recalling Newsom were to pass, the person among 46 qualified candidates who received the most votes, no matter how low a percentage, would become Governor. Unlike 2003, Democrats chose not to have an insurance policy of a credible candidate in case the measure passed. Instead, they would basically take the chance that the office would go to a Republican or some sort of gadfly Democrat that the party would really want no part of. Not too long ago, this looked like a huge potential problem for Democrats, but now, it seems like the lack of any sort of viable Democrat option is a major contributor to why Newsom is likely to survive on the first question.

Scores of candidates lined up to run, from both major political parties, and Independents .There would be no primary process to weed out the contenders. Headlines were made when former Olympic champion and reality show transgender trailblazer Caitlyn Jenner announced her plans to run as a Republican. While Jenner had been critical of Donald Trump, mostly on LGBT issues, she amassed a campaign team of former Trump staffers and seemed to take positions inline with the Trump base. She also left the campaign trail for some time to do a tv reality show in Australia. Ultimately, Jenner was never able to make any sort of case for running other than the need for personal attention and is polling at a very low number.

More serious Republicans entered the race, which I suppose would probably have to include  John Cox, the only time perennial candidate from Chicagoland, who lost in the general election to Newsom three years ago. His gimmick was to campaign with a large bear, that managed to not maul him on the trail. Doug Ose, a relatively moderate former Congressman was in the field, but dropped out not long ago after suffering a heart attack. Other GOP candidates include a conservative State Assemblyman (whose campaign website seems to contain a virus warning) and a more moderate and wonkish Board of Equalization member.

When this race first came into focus, many though the strongest possible Republican candidate would be Kevin Faulconer, a moderate who had served recently as Mayor of San Diego. After all, he was one of the few big city GOP Mayors left anywhere in America. If this were a true one on one race against Newsom, he might actually have a chance, but that is assuming the political world is sane. Faulconer is way back in the polls because he is considered boring and has garnered little in the way of media attention.

A late entrant to the field who has easily gained the most attention and is heavily favored to finish first among the 46 candidate field is Republican Larry Elder. I do not really understand it but that is the political reality that we like in. Conservative activist types in California like the combative and conservative long time Los Angeles talk radio host who has had somewhat of a national profile over the past 25 years or so. 

Much like Trump, Elder is someone who loves to say controversial things and never apologizes for doing so. He has stood by Trump's claims that the 2020 Presidential election was stolen from him and even before the first vote is counted in California tomorrow, seems ready to claim that the contest is being stolen from him as well. Elder, also like Trump, has questions about past personal behavior. His former fiancee/radio producer claims he used drugs, harassed, and abused her during their relationship.

Elder is most identified though because of his identity as a black conservative. He has pointed to his success in life from very humble beginning as proof of the American Dream and has consistently taken on the left in regards to "systemic racism" or the need for large government programs. As talk radio hosts are known to do, he has often said very provocative things such as musing that slave holders would have been more worthy of reparations than the descendants of slaves. Last week, a left-wing activist (assuming it was not a self-staged event) put on a gorilla mask and threw eggs at Elder. There is no excuse for that anywhere in the political sphere. Only also has to realize that had this exact thing happened to an African-American Democrat, it would have received massive news coverage. When it happened to Elder, it was barely, if at all mentioned, outside of Fox News or right-wing media. This definitely speaks as an example as to why left-wing media bias is real.

To reiterate, back in July and August, the polls on the recall question looked to be very close and inching away from Newsom. It was clear that those who wanted him gone were more motivated than those who wanted him to stay. Then, it appears, enough Democrats got scared into taking this thing seriously. In early August, a SurveyUSA poll came out showing that there was a majority now in favor of the recall and that the replacement would come down to Elder and a virtually unknown YouTube figure, running as a Democrat, in favor of the recall, and whose campaign platform sounded more like a Trump Republican. I was very surprised to see this poll. The possibility of this out of nowhere Democrat potentially becoming Governor just because he was running with a D next to his name seemed even crazier than Larry Elder becoming Governor. It also appeared somewhat suspect because that Democrat, Kevin Paffrath, was the only one included in the poll. That would make the situation even more promising for Elder, and for a time, Republicans across the country felt like Elder was headed to victory. During this time, I wondered if there would be an opening for the moribound Faulconer campaign to warn voters that the recall was going to pass and that Democrats should join his Republican backers in supporting him on the second question as the only mainstream hope to be Governor.

As Lee Corso might say though in regards to a college football game, not so fast. SurveyUSA's next poll had very different results and they basically said their previous poll was crap. They had not previously had a good polling reputation in the state. While Elder is going to win the most votes tomorrow, and while it is true that there might be a surprising number of Latino voters especially who have turned on Newsom, the polls now show that "No" is likely to beat "Yes" by a very solid margin. There is still enough unpredictability though in regards to the makeup of the electorate that I cannot call this "Safe."

National Democrats, including Joe Biden, have rallied to the cause of saving Newsom. It would be a tremendous embarrassment if they lose and that is unlikely to happen, especially in a place like California. Enough of the state's Democrat base have been convinced to vote apparently and thus, that will be the end of this chapter. The race is nationalized to the extent that actions by Republicans in Texas have enough Democrats in California scared enough to save their Governor (as if there would be any chance that abortion restrictions could pass in California.) There might also be a more realistic concern that even a temporary Republican Governor could make many appointments and even potentially replace a Democrat U.S. Senator should a vacancy occur. By the same token, actions by Newsom and California Democrats are probably going to help Republicans in Texas and other red states next year in these very polarized times.

Soon enough, it will be time to look towards the regular Gubernatorial election in California. It is very clear that for all his political problems, Newsom will be running for a second term. Many of the figures from this recall contest are likely to try also. The top two candidates, regardless, of party, will advance, and advance alone to the general election. The big question will be if a big-name Democrat steps up to challenge Newsom, and if they can manage to get him into an all Democrat final contest. Of course, any Democrat running would most like to emerge against a Republican in November like John Cox or Larry Elder.


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