Gavin Newsom, the embattled Democrat defending his seat as California's governor, will keep his position after handily defeating the attempt to recall him in Tuesday’s election.
Newsom needed a majority of California voters to vote “no” on the question of whether he should be recalled as governor, and Decision Desk HQ projects he has done so with votes still being counted.
"Tonight I'm humbled, grateful, but resolved in the spirit of my political hero Robert Kennedy to make more gentle the life of this world," Newsom said in brief remarks to reporters Tuesday night. "Thank you all very much, and thank you to 40 million Americans, 40 million Californians. And thank you for rejecting this recall."
The results are unsurprising, given that polling showed he had a large lead and Democrats have a sheer advantage in the state because they vastly outnumber Republicans. Nonetheless, Democrats went to great lengths to make sure Newsom didn’t lose the race, allowing it to absorb much of the party’s energy over the last month.
National Democrats, including President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, flew to the state to encourage voters to return their ballots, with particularly stark warnings about what would happen if Newsom were recalled and right-wing radio personality Larry Elder, the Republican frontrunner, replaced him. (All registered voters in the state were mailed a ballot in advance of the Sept. 14 contest.)
“The eyes of the nation are on California. Because the decision you’re about to make isn’t just going to have a huge impact on California. It’s going to reverberate around the nation,” Biden said at a rally for Newsom on Monday. “The leading Republican running for governor is the closest thing to a Trump clone that I’ve ever seen in your state.”
While the race itself looked functionally over in polling in the last week, there were signs that Republicans were gearing up to contest the results before the recall election even took place. Jenna Dresner, a spokesperson for the California secretary of state, confirmed to BuzzFeed News on Tuesday that “[t]o date, we haven’t sent any recall-related potential voter fraud cases to the Attorney General's office.”
Still, some Republicans appeared ready to pursue baseless complaints over the integrity of the election. Elder put up an online form for voters to flag fraud, reportedly saying, even before votes had been fully cast, that they had detected inconsistencies in the results.
Elder appeared in the second question on the ballot, where voters could choose from 46 candidates — mostly Republicans — whom they thought should replace Newsom if he didn’t meet the majority threshold. “He was basically the last major Republican candidate into the race, and he has become the favorite of the grassroots,” Jim Brulte, a former chair of California’s Republican Party, told BuzzFeed News at the start of September. “It just struck me that when Elder got into the race it kind of sucked all the oxygen out of the other Republican campaigns.”
Former president Donald Trump, who himself did not endorse anyone in the race, even put out a statement fomenting similar conspiracies as Elder. Trump has tirelessly attempted to discredit voting by mail, which was expanded in many states ahead of the 2020 presidential election due to pandemic concerns.
“Does anybody really believe the California Recall Election isn’t rigged?” Trump said in a statement a day before the recall election. “Millions and millions of Mail-In Ballots will make this just another giant Election Scam, no different, but less blatant, than the 2020 Presidential Election Scam!”
Trump lost the presidential election to Biden.
This is the first effort to recall Newsom that has succeeded in reaching the ballot, but the threshold for a recall contest in California is among the lowest in the country. The last recall election in the state occurred in 2003, when then–Democratic governor Gray Davis was successfully recalled and replaced with a Republican.
The effort to recall Newsom predates pandemic shutdowns, but proponents of the effort succeeded in getting an extension to gather signatures because of COVID-19. Newsom’s response to the pandemic became a major part of the messaging against him, especially after it was revealed that he had attended a fall birthday party for a lobbyist at the high-end restaurant The French Laundry with members of other households, a move that flew in the face of guidance his administration had put in place at the time.