Gov. Gavin Newsom is on track to survive a recall election in deep-blue California after initially causing Democrats severe heartburn, with veteran Republican insiders blaming GOP front-runner Larry Elder.
The conservative talk-radio host motivated previously complacent rank-and-file Democrats - which neutralized Newsom's biggest challenge of voter apathy - by catering to the Republican base with polarizing rhetoric and adamantly opposing mask and vaccine mandates amid a resurgence of the coronavirus. In a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1, Elder made himself the perfect foil for Newsom - enabling the Democratic incumbent to make the campaign about the GOP rather than his embattled leadership.
"Newsom has successfully framed the race as him versus Elder, and Democratic voters are responding by voting," said Rob Stutzman, a GOP operative in Sacramento who advised former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Republican who succeeded Gray Davis after the Democrat was recalled from office in 2003. "Elder has no appeal outside of GOP voters."
Elder, a 69-year-old whip-smart and engaging black Republican who is at times combative, is poised to finish first among candidates vying to replace Newsom in Tuesday's recall.
But it will be a Pyrrhic victory if fewer than 50% of California voters support removing the governor from office. A flurry of recent polling suggests that is exactly what will happen. In the RealClearPolitics survey average, the number of respondents who will "no" on recall leads 55.4% to 41.8%. Republicans who voted in their party's win in the 2003 recall who spoke with the Washington Examiner Thursday say the data are believable.
"Before Elder, the race was all about Gavin, and our polls were looking very good," said a Republican consultant in California. "If the election had been four or more weeks ago, we would have won."
NEWSOM SOUNDS ALARM ON CALIFORNIA RECALL, PULLING WHITE HOUSE INTO THE RACE
Elder received some support outside of the traditional conservative circles.
Democrat Gloria Romero, who served as her party's majority leader in the California Senate, even cut a television advertisement for the Republican.
"Yes, I'm a Democrat. But the recall of Newsom is not about political party," she said in the spot. Meanwhile, Elder's Republican critics concede the GOP faced several hurdles in this special election campaign that have nothing to do with Elder, as is true for the party in every statewide contest.
The Democratic Party enjoys a 22.4 percentage point advantage over Republicans among registered voters, and Newsom and the anti-recall forces vastly outspent the pro-recall groups and the handful of Republicans seeking to replace the governor. Additionally, former President Donald Trump, broadly viewed as the leader of the Republican Party, is disliked in California. In contrast, top Democrats - President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and former President Barack Obama - are popular.
Despite all of that, some Republicans claim Elder squandered opportunities to hobble Newsom when he was on the ropes. Voters were upset with the governor for infamously ignoring his own pandemic and tired of his coronavirus regulatory regime. There was frustration over closed public schools, rising crime, and a homelessness epidemic. The state unemployment agency overseen by Newsom's administration was beset by fraud and mismanagement.
Earlier this summer, Democratic strategists who lived through the 2003 recall worried Newsom could be toppled despite California becoming a deeper shade of blue since then. Some believe this recall might have ended similarly if a centrist, such as former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, emerged as the consensus GOP contender. Elder's swift rise after entering the race late compared to the rest of the Republican field has them breathing a huge sigh of relief.
"Had the GOP rallied around Faulconer and he was able to raise the same amount of money as Elder - which is pretty impressive - would this have been a different race? Sure," said Andrew Acosta, a veteran Democratic consultant in the Golden State. "But the GOP would never do that because the base is not there. Elder is clearly the gift that keeps giving for Gavin."
"This is over," added Garry South, the Democratic operative who was Davis's chief political adviser in 2003. "Newsom beats it by double digits."
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Tags: News, Campaigns, 2022 Elections, California recall, Larry Elder, Gavin Newsom
Original Author: David M. Drucker
Original Location: As Gavin Newsom's recall prospects brighten, Republicans point fingers at Larry Elder