Michael R. By Blood and Kathleen Roane
LOS ANGELES (AP) — An ominous four-word message issued by California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s campaign jolted on the morning of August 5, with Democrats needing to take seriously a recall election that could oust him from office: “Remember this close.”
Newsom’s warning in a fundraising email came just days after hinting the one-time popular Democratic governor, who was elected in a 2018 landslide, was facing the unimaginable prospect of losing his job in a state , which did not elect a Republican in a statewide race. 15 years.
The race is “close enough to think about what it would be like if we had a Republican governor in California. Sorry for keeping this idea in your mind, but it’s true,” Newsom’s campaign wrote.
He warned that Newsom’s remarks on the campaign trail had quickly added a dangerous message – he was in serious trouble. The sequence of events marked a turning point in the race and helped energize California’s prominent Democratic voters, who by then appeared to greet the contest with a collective shrug.
Newsom on Tuesday easily retracted an attempt to retire him less than three years into his first term. Incomplete returns led him to a landslide victory with nearly 65% of the vote.
A big lesson from Newsom’s decisive victory is that “you can wake up the base,” Newsom strategist Sean Clegg said this week. “Base may start sleeping… but you can wake Base.”
Newsom’s victory also provided him with a dramatic comeback story to broaden his popularity ahead of the 2022 re-election race, seeking to return his name in discussions about future presidential candidates. are trying.
The Los Angeles-based Democratic adviser said that focusing the narrative on the threat of Republican upsets in the nation’s most populous state “became a self-fulfilling prophecy, where the more you talk about getting closer to it, the more (Democrats) attention.” give.” Michael Trujillo, who was not involved in the campaign.
For Democrats, the fear of losing the California governor’s seat also opened up national fundraising pipelines, which gave Newsom a huge cash advantage over his rivals. That concern also provided a connection point with minority communities about how their lives with a conservative Republican governor in Sacramento might turn.
Newsom also benefited from other important events in the campaign, including strategy decisions by his campaign and other factors associated with the event or fate.
The state generated a surprisingly unexpected collection of tax dollars, resulting in a record surplus, allowing Newsom to fund billions for an array of programs, from garbage cleanup to early education and homelessness.
In what Democrats said was a lucky turning point for Newsom, the election was reshuffled when conservative talk show host Larry Elder entered the race in July. The lawyer and author, who could become the state’s first black governor, quickly emerged as Newsom’s main foil, and the race intensified as a one-on-one matchup for voters.
Elder came to the race with conservative-liberal principles that were out of step with many of the state’s left-wing voters.
He is a supporter of former President Donald Trump, a disgraced figure in California outside his conservative base. Elder Landmark is critical of Roe v. Wade’s decision on abortion rights, has spoken out against the minimum wage and promised the state’s eradication of vaccines and masks that Newsom has insisted on saving lives.
In Race with Elder, Newsom seizes the opportunity to frame the election as a contest between two radically different visions for the future of California. He warned repeatedly that progressive values on the environment, health care and women’s rights were on the ballot, while Elder would herald the return of an era of “Trumpism”.
Elder strengthened the conservative base, but gave the Democrats a clear enemy.
“Larry the Elder gave him so many gifts on a platter. He is literally the antithesis of most California voters,” said Dana Williamson, top adviser to former Democratic California Gov. Jerry Brown, who preceded Newsom.
Ron Nehring, a former president of the California Republican Party and a supporter of GOP candidate Kevin Faulkner, said that Elder “served as a lifesaver for Gavin Newsom” as he gave the governor a target and diverted attention from his own record. .
Newsom recalled with benefits not shared by governors in other states.
Democrats hold a huge numerical edge over Republicans in California — about a 2-to-1 margin, or about 5 million voters. As a target of the recall, the political committee supporting Newsom was allowed to raise unlimited funds, which gave him cash to flood TV screens with advertisements.
That core committee backing Newsom had raised about $70 million by the end of August. By comparison, the two committees that supported Elder’s campaign raised about $15 million.
Newsom was also backed by the nation’s largest state Democratic Party and politically powerful public worker unions – his campaign said 25,000 volunteers took to the streets a week before the election.
Meanwhile, a scuffle broke out between the Republican candidates. The GOP never settled on a unified strategy – the party considered supporting a candidate, then dropped him. National Republicans largely stayed on the sidelines after the Republican National Committee gave $250,000, much of it to the state party.
Another significant advantage for Newsom came when his campaign was successful in keeping the replacement ballot free of any established Democrats. Newsom’s strategists were wary of the historical context: in a recall election in 2003, voters ousted Democrat Gray Davis, who faced an intraparty challenge from Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante.
Bustamante’s appearance on the ballot gave Democrats a viable alternative to the unpopular Davis, and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for victory.
Newsom’s campaign team also pointed to the emergence of the highly contagious Delta variant as a factor, which rearranged the race, notably with Elder emerging as the major GOP rival.
“We saw the delta increase in this campaign as a real transformational moment. I think it was a turning point for us,” Clegg said. “What Delta was brought to clear, clear attention is what the stakes are in this election, when a party has basically become an anti-science, anti-vaccine, anti-public health party.”
Referring to Elder, he said the race can be distilled into one sentence: “This recall is a vote for a pro-Trump, anti-vax Republican governor who is going to reverse the vaccine mandate on day one.”