The California gubernatorial recall looms. The official election day is set for September 14, and mail-in ballots are expected to pour into the mailboxes of Californians in the next few weeks. Republican voters have grown incredibly enthusiastic at the prospect of ousting Gavin Newsom, the king of pandemic hysteria, from office. The governor’s promises to resolve rampant wildfires, the homeless crisis, and the lack of housing have thus far gone unfulfilled. Still, rather than understand why California voters want to hold the governor accountable, state Democrats have all gone on the defensive, preferring to slander the recall effort as an undemocratic, Republican process.
Newsom accrued support from prominent Democrats like Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Vice President Kamala Harris to fight back the tide of resentment building against the governor for so long. For months, Democrats ridiculed the recall effort, associating it with Republican outrage against Newsom’s harsh response to the COVID-19 pandemic. From the start, the recall was depicted as a last-ditch effort from the California Republican Party to rein in the agenda of state Democrats. After all, John Cox, one of the Republican frontrunners in the recall election, lost handily to Newsom in 2018. The Democratic Party has used this reality as a club against the candidates, asserting that Republicans stand no chance of winning big in an official statewide election without the recall effort.
Newsom, who once avoided even mentioning the existence of a recall effort against him, has been forced to go on the attack to salvage his reputation. The governor moved to position himself as the only viable Democrat on the ballot, maintaining that the nine others weren’t serious candidates. These Democrats, including YouTuber Kevin Paffrath, have cited the need to oust Newsom over his failure to live up to voter expectations. Pollsters and election experts argue the win condition for the governor relies on whether enough supporters turn out and vote.
Unlike an ordinary gubernatorial campaign, Democrats are less enthusiastic about voting in these special elections. In contrast, Republican voters have been keen to take the opportunity to deal a death blow to Newsom’s political legacy that stretches far beyond the governorship. The California GOP has also been unwilling to officially endorse a candidate in the election, fearing that an endorsement of one candidate may dissuade supporters of the others from voting at all.
The governor has recently focused most of his attacks on Larry Elder, a radio and podcast broadcaster representing the more libertarian side of the Republican Party. Elder arrived late to the campaign field, announcing his participation in the race just over a month ago and skyrocketing to the top of the polls on the Republican side of the ballot. Elder’s name recognition across the country seems to have put him ahead of others, like Kevin Faulconer and John Cox, who are considered more mainstream candidates with less national name recognition. Already, media organizations like the Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times have been combing through Elder’s record, drawing connections between him and former President Donald Trump. The increased attention on Elder and the other Democrats and Republicans running to replace Newsom demonstrates the fear the Democratic Party has at the prospect of an electoral defeat in one of their party strongholds.