Californians are now awaiting the outcome of the recall election that could remove first-term Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom from office.
Voting wrapped up Tuesday.
From early results, Newsom appears to be enjoying the support of the people, winning close to 70 percent of the votes to stay on his job.
Just over 8.5 million mail-in ballots — the form of voting most Californians use — were returned prior to Election Day out of 22 million sent to registered voters.
The contest unfolded this summer as the nation’s most populous state saw a surge in coronavirus infections from the highly contagious delta variant and the return of masks and other restrictions in many places.
There have been raging wildfires, crime rates have risen and a homeless crisis persists unabated.
Republicans are hoping for an upset in the heavily Democratic state, where the GOP hasn’t won a statewide election since 2006.
Newsom has been defending his record on the virus and warning that Republican front-runner Larry Elder, a conservative talk radio host, would undermine California’s progressive values.
The election is being watched nationally, and the outcome could influence the 2022 elections, when a closely divided Congress will be in play.
How did California arrive at this point? Here are some answers:
WHAT IS A RECALL ELECTION?
California is one of 20 states that have provisions to recall a sitting governor, 19 through elections.
The state law establishing the rules goes back to 1911 and was intended to give more power to voters by allowing them to remove elected officials and repeal or pass laws by placing them on the ballot.
Recall attempts are common in the state, but they rarely get on the ballot and even fewer succeed. The only time a governor was recalled was 2003, when Democrat Gray Davis was removed and voters replaced him with Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.
A federal judge in late August rejected a lawsuit that sought to block the recall on grounds it violated the Constitution by creating a situation where a sitting governor could lose the recall but still get more votes to stay in office than the winning replacement candidate receives.
WHY IS THERE A RECALL DRIVE AGAINST NEWSOM?
The answer is simple and complicated.
The simple part: Californians grew angry during the pandemic. Whipsaw stay-at-home orders by Newsom, crushing job losses from business closures, shuttered schools and the disruption of daily life soured just about everybody. Many of life’s routines were cut off at some point, if not altogether, whether it was trips to the beach or lunches at a favorite taco joint.
The complicated part: In a state with nearly 40 million people, there are many grievances, including California’s wallet-sapping taxes, rising food and gas prices, the threat of water rationing to contend with a long-running drought, a homeless crisis and the continuing menace of wildfires. As governor, Newsom is a ready target for that resentment.
He also is being hit by fallout from a multibillion-dollar fraud scandal at the state unemployment agency while weathering public shaming for dining out maskless with friends and lobbyists at an exclusive restaurant last fall as he told residents to stay home.
HOW DOES THE ELECTION WORK?
There are two questions: Voters were asked if Newsom should be removed, yes or no, and then who should replace him. There were 46 replacement candidates on the ballot.
If a majority of voters approve Newsom’s removal, the candidate who gets the most votes on the second question becomes governor. With dozens of candidates dividing those ballots, it’s possible a winner could get 25% or less of the vote.
Newsom was successful in discouraging any fellow Democrats with political standing from entering the race and offering themselves as an alternative should the recall be successful. He urged his supporters to vote no on the recall but leave the second question blank.
WHO ARE THE REPLACEMENT CANDIDATES?
There are 46 names on the ballot, but former Congressman Doug Ose withdrew because of health reasons after it had been printed. The 24 Republican candidates include Elder; former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer; businessman John Cox, who was defeated by Newsom in 2018; reality TV personality and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner; and Assemblyman Kevin Kiley.
There are nine Democrats, 10 independents, two Green Party members and one Libertarian. No Democrat with political stature ran — the best-known is real estate agent and YouTube personality Kevin Paffrath. Most of the candidates are largely unknown and have not mounted credible campaigns.
However, recent polling indicates Newsom is in a strong position to hold his job. He has advantages over his GOP rivals: Democratic voters outnumber Republicans nearly 2-to-1, and the party controls every statewide office and dominates the Legislature and congressional delegation. President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and former President Barack Obama have called on voters to reject the recall.
Republicans last won a statewide election in 2006, when Schwarzenegger was reelected.