The date for the California gubernatorial recall election has arrived, and the Texas Citizen Journal is forecasting a victory for incumbent Governor Gavin Newsom. The main reason? Despite Newsom’s flaws (and there are many) and a series of serious missteps by the governor, most notably violating his own health orders by dining at the uber-fancy French Laundry, this is still California.
Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1 in voter registration in the Golden State and Democrats command supermajorities in both houses of the state legislature in a state that is only trending more Democratic. Newsom won the governor’s office in 2018 with 62% of the vote. The Republican Party in California is essentially a permanent minority party, with all the craziness and un-seriousness that entails.
The thought that a Republican could win the governorship in California in the face of such overwhelming structural disadvantages was always close to being a pipe dream, much less a controversial, bomb-throwing talk radio host like Larry Elder. While intensity has seemed to favor supporters of recall, the only way for them to prevail would be in a very low turnout scenario where most Democrats didn’t bother to vote.
Some polling in August indicated that Newsom might actually be in trouble, however, Democrats got spooked, and Elder provided an excellent foil to mobilize the Democrat base against in the heavily left-leaning state. It is also possible that the idea of Elder defeating Newsom to become the next governor of California was much overhyped by the media from the beginning, as the narrative made a good story to generate attention and garner clicks.
However, after the initial scare, things started to go Newsom’s way. Currently all data points are now pointing towards a Newsom victory. Since late August, the polling has been trending steadily in Newsom’s favor. Turnout is high enough that Democrats should feel comfortable. The online political betting website currently has the odds of the recall prevailing at only 6%.
Perhaps most telling though, is that Elder and his supporters are already priming the narrative for defeat, alleging massive voter fraud and declining to say whether he would concede in the case of defeat on election night. The fact however, is that whether there are irregularities in mail-in balloting or not, one does not have to resort to invoking fraud to explain a Democrat incumbent winning re-election in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1.
Comparisons have been made to the successful 2003 recall election when Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) defeated Gray Davis (D). However, Newsom, despite his flaws, is still no Gray Davis. And Larry Elder is definitely no Arnold Schwarzenegger. The political atmosphere is also significantly more polarized in 2021 than it was in 2003.
Perhaps, in an alternate universe in which the California GOP was a more serious party, they would have worked within the political reality of their state, cleared the field and coalesced behind a more competent and less controversial candidate like former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer who might’ve been more appealing to independents and disaffected Democrats while not being as much of a lightning-rod to galvanize opposition. We’ll never know.
As it now stands, the Texas Citizen Journal predicts Newsom will defeat the recall with around 55-60%. Due to Newsom’s missteps it will likely be closer than it should be for an incumbent Democrat in California, but Republicans just face far too many structural disadvantages and Elder is not a strong candidate.
Finally, be careful trying to read the tea leaves for what the recall might portend for 2022. If Elder pulled off an unlikely upset, it would certainly portend a historic and catastrophic route for Democrats in 2022. However, if Newsom prevails as expected, I don’t think the California recall has anything to tell us about the 2022 midterms. Polls and special elections in swing states and swing districts are far better bellwethers. A Democrat winning in a deep blue is no surprise and tells us very little.
Don’t get me wrong: I’d love to see Newsom’s political career go down in flames. I think he’s been an incompetent governor and his policies are terrible. But at this point expecting him to be recalled is just wishful thinking. I’m just glad I don’t live in California.