Unpacking the GOV. Newsome victory
Recalling California Governor Gavin Newsom may have been an impossible task from the onset. It only takes 65 voters to launch a recall petition drive. And getting 1.7 signatures from Republicans, disgruntled independents and even a few disaffected Democrats is far different than winning a majority of the 13 million people who cast ballots in the special recall referendum.
California has a peculiar recall system. At the same time voters decide the fate of the Governor, they are asked to select among the list of alternative candidates to be the replacement. There is no real opponent as you would find in a regular election. There is only a perceived opponent based on polling.
It is almost impossible for a recall to succeed if the target is a Democrat governor in a very blue state. Yes, it was done once before when Democrat Governor Gray Davis was removed from office and bodybuilder/actor Arnold Schwarzenegger was chosen to replace him. But that was when the registration advantage for Democrats was narrower. It was also a time when the partisan atmosphere was less acrid.
Some pundits say the size of the Newsom victory was impressive and significant. Maybe. Maybe not. Newsom’s margin of victory – 63 to 37 percent — was basically his margin in his previous election. In fact, only four counties flipped – one Newsom county voted to recall and three counties he lost in the previous election voted to retain the Governor.
In other words, there was no significant shift in sentiment that can provide a hint of future elections – especially for 2024. No political crystal ball … no tea leaves … no Tarot cards. This was purely a California election – and if California is not in the Democrat column in 2024, the donkey party would be virtually wiped out across the nation.
Newsom’s only official opposition was the “yes” vote on recall. His potential successor was chosen in an entirely different process. Once a voter checked “yes” on the recall vote, they had a choice of more than 50 candidates from which to select a successor. Voters had to rely on polls to get a hint of who that might be.
The guy who emerged was radio commentator Larry Elders. At times, he was winning the popularity contest with as little as a 15 percent plurality – although he won the final vote with approximately 46 percent. That is important. As I have noted many times in the past … when there is a large field of candidates, the winner may not be the most popular overall, but the person with the largest dedicated base. That was seen in Trump’s success run in 2016. He got the nomination by racking up winning pluralities even though most GOP primary voters preferred one of the other 16 candidates.
Elders’ lead in the polls may have helped Newsom. Don’t get me wrong. I like Elders, but there still is a pragmatic reality that needs to be considered.
Elders personified the Trump wing of the Republican Party. That automatically makes him unacceptable to Democrats and the left – and some independents and Republicans. The most likely successor to Newsom did not have the broad base of appeal that Schwarzenegger had. Elders’ staunch conservative principles were not as acceptable in a state that leans that far left – and so Democrat.
You could almost read some of those people’s minds. “I am inclined to boot Newsome … but … not for Elders.” That may not have been the only influence – or even the dominant one – but he had to help Newsom to some measure.
These interim elections are rarely as telling as the pundits and the politicians too often claim. If the one-off election flips the office from one party to another, maybe something can be drawn from that. In the case of the California recall, the only thing that can be surmised is that the Democrat candidate was Governor before the recall vote – and is Governor after.
So, there ‘tis.