California’s governor, Gavin Newsom has prevailed in a historic recall election that had him battling for his political life. In a referendum on the governor’s leadership through the pandemic, voters resoundingly rejected the choice to replace him with a Trumpist Republican.
The Associated Press projected the results about 45 minutes after polls closed on Tuesday night. Newsom’s most popular challenger was Larry Elder, a right wing radio host who drew comparisons to the former president and who attempted to sow baseless doubts about the election process.
Newsom did not hold a watch party or election night celebration. Instead, he struck a somber tone speaking to reporters on Tuesday night, saying: “Tonight I’m humbled, grateful, but resolved.”
Larry Elder, the conservative radio host, appears at a campaign event in Monterey Park, California, on 13 September.
Larry Elder: defeated California recall challenger takes a page from Trump’s big lie playbook
Speaking in Sacramento, Newsom said that in voting no on the Republican-led recall, Californians said “Yes to science, we said yes to vaccines.”
“I’m humbled and grateful to the millions and millions of Californians that exercise their fundamental right to vote,” Newsom said, “and express themselves so overwhelmingly by rejecting the division, by rejecting the cynicism.”
While margins are expected to shrink as more votes are tallied, results on Tuesday night showed Californians appeared to oppose the recall effort in greater numbers than some experts initially expected. With about 60% of ballots counted, “no” on the question of whether to recall Newsom was ahead by a two to one margin.
Although the race was called by the AP on Tuesday night, the vote count is not yet final, and election officials have 30 days to count all the ballots.
As a Democratic governor of a deep-blue state, the governor found himself in the peculiar position of having to defend his seat after the recall effort gained steam amid the worst of the pandemic, fueled by frustrations over school and business closures.
“It’s somewhat remarkable that Newsom was able to take the Covid issue, which might have been a failure fatal weakness for him and was able to turn it into a considerable strength,” said Dan Schnur, a politics professor who has advised Republican candidates.
For many voters, a “no” vote did turn out to be less an endorsement of Newsom and more a rejection of Elder and other Republicans. Newsom “didn’t let us turn into a Florida or a Texas”, said Tim Otto, a bookstore owner in Stockton, California – referring to states whose governors have blocked or fought mask and vaccine requirements.
Elder spent election night in Costa Mesa, California, where guests at his party viewed Fox News on big screens, and danced along to live music from Phil Crosby (Bing’s grandson) and his six-man band. He conceded defeat on Tuesday night.
Among early voters, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by two to one – though gap was expected to shrink on election day with a greater proportion of Republicans expected to cast their ballots day-of. Polls that had initially placed Elder within striking distance of Newsom began to widen ahead of election day. As his chances of victory slimmed, Elder began following in Trump’s footsteps by spreading conspiracy theories to falsely suggest that the election was rigged against him.