Current time in California: Sept. 15, 9:50 a.m.
The coronavirus pandemic helped propel the recall attempt of Gov. Gavin Newsom to the ballot in California, and on Tuesday, his handling of the pandemic was an overriding issue as about two-thirds of voters decided he should stay in office.
Across the nation’s most populous state, voters surveyed by New York Times reporters outside polling places cited Mr. Newsom’s pandemic restrictions and support for vaccine mandates as key factors in whether they voted to oust or keep him. The recall served as a preview of next year’s midterm elections nationally, with voters sharply divided along partisan lines over issues such as masks, lockdowns and mandatory vaccinations.
In San Francisco, Jose Orbeta said he voted to keep Mr. Newsom, a Democrat, in office, calling the recall a “waste of time.”
“It’s a power grab by the G.O.P.,” said Mr. Orbeta, a 50-year-old employee of the Department of Public Health. He said Mr. Newsom had done a “decent job” leading California through the pandemic despite his “lapse of judgment” in dining at the French Laundry during the height of the outbreak.
In Yorba Linda, a conservative suburb in Orange County, Jose Zenon, a Republican who runs an event-planning business with his wife, said he was infuriated by Mr. Newsom’s pandemic restrictions and support for vaccine mandates. He pointed to examples of his friends leaving for other states, such as Arizona, Nevada and Texas.
“That train out of here is really long, and we might be getting on it, too,” Mr. Zenon said, just after voting for Larry Elder, the Republican talk-radio host who led the field of challengers hoping to take Mr. Newsom’s job.
“The rules this governor made put a lot of businesses in an impossible position — we were without income for 10 months. Here we live in a condo, we want to have a home, but it’s just impossible. Something’s got to change.”
Some voters in an increasingly politically active constituency of Chinese Americans supported the recall. They blamed Mr. Newsom for a rise in marijuana dispensaries, homeless people and crime that they said are ruining the cluster of cities east of Los Angeles where Chinese immigrants, many of them now American citizens, have thrived for years.
“We really don’t like the situation in California,” said Fenglan Liu, 53, who immigrated to the United States from mainland China 21 years ago and helped mobilize volunteers in the San Gabriel Valley.
“No place is safe; crime is terrible. Newsom needs to go. This is failed management, not the pandemic.”
In the wealthy Orange County suburb of Ladera Ranch, Candice Carvalho, 42, cast her ballot against the recall because, she said, “I thought it was important to show that Orange County isn’t just Republicans.”
She expressed frustration that the recall was taking so much attention at a critical moment in the pandemic.
“It was a waste of money and completely unnecessary,” she said. “And I’m a little shocked we’re focusing on this now.” While she acknowledged knowing little about the specifics of state election laws, she said it seemed “slightly too easy” to get the recall attempt on the ballot.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s five-minute victory speech came not to a crowd of cheering supporters like the one he addressed with President Biden Monday night in Long Beach, but to a group of reporters gathered in Sacramento.
He dispensed with the typical laundry list of thanks to key political allies and instead sought to frame the entire recall campaign as the latest battle in a broader fight against the forces aligned with former President Donald J. Trump.
“Democracy is not a football, you don’t throw it around,” Mr. Newsom said. “It’s more like an antique vase. 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 and meet the moment and push it back.”
Mr. Newsom’s triumph over the recall, he essentially said, was less a cause for celebration than it was an excuse to exhale. A California campaign that Democrats framed as one between the science of the pandemic, multicultural democracy and abortion rights didn’t leave the governor with much room for a victory lap.
The issues he mentioned at the beginning of his speech — promoting vaccines, diversity and women’s rights — are reflected in much of California’s current policy. This wasn’t a campaign Mr. Newsom ran with a platform of moving the state forward; it was a continuation of his warning that if Republicans take control, they would usher in a dystopian, Trump-inspired wasteland.
“We may have defeated Trump, but Trumpism is not dead in this country,” Mr. Newsom said. “The Big Lie, the Jan. 6 insurrection, all the voting suppression efforts that are happening all across this country, what’s happening with the assault on fundamental rights, constitutional rights of women and girls, it’s a remarkable moment in our nation’s history.”
In California, where Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly two to one, this message was more than enough to carry the day, with a blowout margin that mirrored the 2020 presidential election result in the state.
SACRAMENTO — A Republican-led bid to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom of California ended in a decisive defeat on Tuesday, as Democrats in the nation’s most populous state closed ranks against a small grass-roots movement that accelerated with the spread of Covid-19.
Larry Elder, a conservative talk radio host, led 46 challengers hoping to become the next governor, but Californians strongly affirmed their support for Mr. Newsom in a special election that cost the state an estimated $276 million.
The Associated Press called the race for Mr. Newsom, who had won in a 62 percent landslide in 2018, less than an hour after the polls closed on Tuesday. About 65 percent of the nearly nine million ballots counted by 1 a.m. Pacific time said the governor should stay in office.
“It appears that we are enjoying an overwhelmingly ‘no’ vote tonight here in the state of California, but ‘no’ is not the only thing that was expressed tonight,” Mr. Newsom told reporters late Tuesday.
“We said yes to science. We said yes to vaccines. We said yes to ending this pandemic. We said yes to people’s right to vote without fear of fake fraud and voter suppression. We said yes to women’s fundamental constitutional right to decide for herself what she does with her body, her faith, her future. We said yes to diversity.”
The result reflected the state’s recent progress against the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed more than 67,000 lives in California. The state has one of the nation’s highest vaccination rates and one of its lowest rates of new virus cases — which the governor tirelessly argued to voters were the results of his vaccine and mask requirements.
Though polls showed that the recall was consistently opposed by some 60 percent of Californians, surveys over the summer suggested that likely voters were unenthusiastic about Mr. Newsom. As the election deadline approached, however, his base mobilized.
Electoral math did the rest: Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one in California, and pandemic voting rules encouraged high turnout, allowing ballots to be mailed to each of the state’s 22 million registered, active voters with prepaid postage. More than 40 percent of those Californians voted early.
Since early this year, when it became clear that the recall would have the money and time to qualify for the ballot, Mr. Newsom campaigned relentlessly. Noting that Mr. Elder had built a career bashing liberal causes, the governor painted him as a Trump clone who would foist far-right policies on a state that has been a bastion of liberal thinking.
“Vote no and go,” the governor told voters, suggesting that they stick to voting against recalling him and not even dignify the second question on the ballot, which asked who should replace Mr. Newsom if the recall succeeds.
Millions of voters chose not to answer the second question, with Mr. Elder receiving nearly half of the vote from those who did. As of early Wednesday morning Kevin Paffrath, a Democrat, had received about 10 percent of the vote, and Kevin Faulconer, a Republican and former mayor of San Diego, had garnered about 9 percent.
Although Gov. Gavin Newsom’s critics started their recall attempt because they opposed his stances on the death penalty and immigration, it was the politicization of the pandemic that propelled it onto the ballot as Californians became impatient with shutdowns of businesses and classrooms.
Initiated by a retired Republican sheriff’s sergeant in Northern California, Orrin Heatlie, the recall was one of six conservative-led petitions that began circulating within months of Mr. Newsom’s inauguration.
Initially, Mr. Heatlie’s petition had difficulty gaining traction. But it gathered steam as the pandemic swept California and Mr. Newsom struggled to contain it. Californians who at first were supportive of the governor’s health orders wearied of shutdowns in businesses and classrooms, and public dissatisfaction boiled over in November when Mr. Newsom was spotted mask-free at the French Laundry, an exclusive wine country restaurant, after urging the public to avoid gatherings.
A court order extending the deadline for signature gathering because of pandemic shutdowns allowed recall proponents to capitalize on the outrage and unease.
Recall attempts are common in California, where direct democracy has long been part of the political culture. But only one other attempt against a governor has qualified for the ballot — in 2003, when Californians recalled Gov. Gray Davis on the heels of the Sept. 11 attacks, the dot-com bust and rolling electricity blackouts. They elected Arnold Schwarzenegger to replace Mr. Davis as governor, substituting a centrist Republican for a centrist Democrat.
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California modeled his campaign to beat back the attempt to recall him on that of the only other American governor to defeat a recall: Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a Republican who retained his office in a 2012 vote.
But while Mr. Newsom, like Mr. Walker nearly a decade ago, was successful in energizing his party’s base to vote in an unusually timed contest, his methods were decidedly different.
Mr. Newsom framed the contest around the idea of a Trump-inspired Republican power grab. The signs displayed at his events, his advertising and campaign literature said “stop the Republican recall.” The statewide Democratic push was to “vote no” on the first question on voters’ ballots, whether to remove him.
Under the Wisconsin recall rules, however, instead of a yes-or-no question on removal followed by a menu of alternatives, voters faced a one-on-one contest between Mr. Walker and Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee. And Mr. Walker had long built an political identity as a bulwark against the state’s once-powerful labor unions, where were decimated by reforms that Mr. Walker ushered into law in 2011.
Mr. Walker’s supporters planted yard signs across the state that read “I Stand With Walker,” an affirmation that his campaign adopted both for the 2012 recall and for his 2014 re-election bid. Each of those contests was far more of a referendum on Mr. Walker’s tenure in office than the California recall was of Mr. Newsom’s stewardship.
That was true in part because California Republicans failed to offer an alternative to Mr. Newsom who was palatable to independent voters, much less to moderate Democrats who may have been frustrated with Mr. Newsom’s handling of the pandemic.
The leading opponent, the conservative talk-show host Larry Elder, embraced Trumpism to an extent that he became nearly a parody of the former president’s supporters, appealing to what in California remains a narrow hard-core base.
For Mr. Walker, beating back the recall led to an easy re-election two years later. Though his presidential campaign in 2016 turned out to be a far better idea in theory than in practice, the recall victory helped give him the image of a conservative giant-killer, which in some circles he still retains.
Like Mr. Wallker, Mr. Newsom, who plans to seek re-election next year, has long had designs on running for national office. The question for him now is how much of a springboard the recall effort will be, when he didn’t make any of it about himself.
A key reason that Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat in his first term leading California, will remain in office is that, in a deeply liberal state, he effectively nationalized the recall effort as a Republican plot, making a flame-throwing radio host the Trump-like face of the opposition to polarize the electorate along red and blue lines.
Mr. Newsom found success not because of what makes California different but because of how it’s like everywhere else: He dominated in California’s heavily populated Democratic cities, the key to victory in a state where his party outnumbers Republicans by five million voters.
The recall does offer at least one lesson to Democrats in Washington ahead of next year’s midterm elections: The party’s pre-existing blue- and purple-state strategy of portraying Republicans as Trump-loving extremists can still prove effective with the former president out of office, at least when the strategy is executed with unrelenting discipline, an avalanche of money and an opponent who plays to type.
“You either keep Gavin Newsom as your governor or you’ll get Donald Trump,” President Biden said at an election-eve rally in Long Beach, making explicit what Mr. Newsom and his allies had been suggesting for weeks about the Republican front-runner, the longtime radio host Larry Elder.
By the time Mr. Biden arrived in California, Mr. Newsom was well positioned. Yet in the days leading up to the recall, he was warning Democrats of the right-wing threat they would face in elections across the country next November.
“Engage, wake up, this thing is coming,” he said in an interview, calling Mr. Elder “a national spokesperson for an extreme agenda.”
California, which has not elected a Republican governor since the George W. Bush administration, is hardly a top area of contention in next year’s midterms. Yet for Republicans eying Mr. Biden’s falling approval ratings and growing hopeful about their 2022 prospects, the failed recall is less an ominous portent than a cautionary reminder about what happens when they put forward candidates who are easy prey for the opposition.
COSTA MESA, Calif. — About 10 minutes before the polls closed, supporters of Larry Elder, the leading Republican candidate, began streaming into a hotel ballroom in Orange County, sipping wine and whiskey sours. The band played “The Girl From Ipanema” and the stage was ringed by red-white-and-blue bunting, as attendees waited for Mr. Elder.
Just after polls closed at 8 p.m., Fred Whitaker, the chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, warned the crowd — inaccurately, it turned out — that it was likely to be a long night, because early results were likely to favor the Democrats. “Enjoy the food,” he said. “Enjoy the drink.”
And then they prayed.
Pastor Jack Hibbs of Calvary Chapel in Chino Hills thanked God for creating California. “We pray, we ask of you, to grant victory,” he said.
Later, after The Associated Press called the race for Gov. Gavin Newsom, Mr. Elder spoke to the crowd and conceded.
“Let’s be gracious in defeat,” he said, adding, “We may have lost the battle, but we are going to win the war.”
The packed ballroom cheered.
Throughout the campaign, Mr. Elder made baseless claims about election fraud, echoing former President Donald J. Trump. He had previously suggested he would challenge the results if he lost and Mr. Newsom kept his job. But on Tuesday night, he did not say whether he planned to contest the results.
At the event, which the candidate billed as a “victory party,” some of Mr. Elder’s supporters said they would accept defeat if it arrived. “Of course,” said Cheryl Rosenberg, an educator in the Inland Empire. “I’m not going to call cheating.”
Ms. Rosenberg, 57, raced to the Costa Mesa hotel straight from work with her friend and colleague, Susan Sawyer, both wearing American-flag-themed attire. Ms. Sawyer also said she would also accept the election’s outcome if it didn’t favor Mr. Elder.
But Ms. Sawyer, 58, said that in any case, she had already decided to leave California because of its cost of living. A lifelong Californian, she said she wished she could stay. But she and her husband are close to retirement, and believe they can’t afford to spend their golden years in the state. So they recently sold their house for $720,000 and will move to Arizona.
“We’re just going to take the money and run,” she said.
The two friends were ecstatic when the recall effort qualified for the ballot, both believing that Mr. Newsom has been “a horrible governor.” They decided to support Mr. Elder, a conservative radio host, because he was not a career politician and had what they said were common-sense solutions to problems such as wildfires and the homelessness crisis.
“He wants a California that we want back,” Ms. Rosenberg said.
Detractors of California’s special election, which Gov. Gavin Newsom won on Tuesday, say the recall process is democracy gone off the rails, a distraction from crises that require the government’s attention, and a waste of hundreds of millions of dollars.
California’s forests are on fire, with wildfire smoke sending thousands of residents fleeing. Towns are running out of water from severe drought. And some rural hospitals are packed with coronavirus patients.
Many voters who went to the polls on Tuesday said the election was an unwelcome distraction that preoccupied Mr. Newsom and, some critics said, might have prevented him from taking on tough decisions.
“This recall is so dumb,” said Frankie Santos, a 43-year-old artist who voted in Hollywood on Tuesday. “It’s so not a good use of resources.” She said that if she could have scrawled “absolutely no” to recalling Mr. Newsom without invalidating her ballot, she would have.
Anthony Rendon, the speaker of the State Assembly, and other legislative leaders have already said discussions were underway to place a constitutional amendment regarding recalls before voters in 2022.
“This is a system that was put in place 100 years ago,” said Mr. Rendon, referring to the current recall rules. “We’ll be asking if this is what’s best for the state.”
The election, which is costing the state $276 million to administer, has at times had a circus atmosphere to it, not least when one of the 46 candidates on the ballot brought a large bear to a campaign rally.
No one in the state’s Democratic leadership is suggesting the elimination of recalls, which are baked into the State Constitution. But many are vowing to make it more difficult for them to qualify for the ballot, or to change the rules on how a successor is chosen.
With more than nine million ballots already cast early or by mail, Californians, from Mendocino County to Monterey Park, came out to cast their votes and determine Gov. Gavin Newsom’s fate. In Laytonville, the local Lions Club served as a voting center.
People lined up to vote outside the Central Library in Huntington Beach in Orange County, while election workers delivered registrar supplies. Richard Thompson, an assistant election manager, prepared for Election Day in the Redwood Playhouse in Garberville, Calif.; and one voter in Anaheim was accompanied by her young child as she cast a ballot in the recall election.
Statewide, some 13 million ballots were left to be cast or postmarked on Election Day, but the race was expected to have high turnout overall for an off-year election.