Gov. Gavin Newsom held a two-to-one advantage in early returns in California’s recall election, as he looked ready to easily prevail against a conservative challenge.
The “no” campaign was winning close to 70% of the vote with about half the expected votes tallied, according to counts from CNN and the Los Angeles Times.
CNN declared Newsom the winner at 8:39 p.m. ABC, NBC and CBS also called the race. The Associated Press said it will too soon to call, given that millions of ballots have yet to be counted.
Conservative talk show host Larry Elder was leading all contenders on the replacement ballot, but that would be a hollow victory if the recall fails by 40 points.
The recall proponents sought to tap into frustration over COVID-19 shutdowns, as well as broader concerns around housing costs and homelessness.
But Newsom turned the tables, charging that his opponents were “anti-vax” and that a Republican victory would roll back progress on combating the virus.
Democrats also linked the recall to the Republican brand and to former President Trump, sometimes even going so far as to call it a “coup” and liken it to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“You either keep Gavin Newsom as your governor, or you’ll get Donald Trump,” President Biden said at a rally Monday night. “It’s not a joke.”
Newsom was able to call on big-name backing in the final weeks, with appearances from Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. He also drew on Democrats’ union-led get-out-the-vote efforts, which helped with the final push.
Polls closed at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, but voting has been underway since mid-August. Election officials mailed a ballot to every registered voter in the state, and more than 40% of them had returned their ballots before Tuesday.
Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly two-to-one in California, so Newsom and his allies had only to make sure their voters turned out in order to prevail. The “no” campaign heavily outraised the Republican challengers, and was able to blanket the airwaves with endorsement ads from President Obama and Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Hollywood lent its financial support to save Newsom. Netflix co-CEO Reed Hastings contributed $3 million to the anti-recall campaign. Other donors included the Motion Picture Association, Disney, NBCUniversal, Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures, as well as Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Haim Saban, Bryan Lourd and Barbra Streisand.
Newsom’s campaign branded the recall as a Republican takeover, despite protests from recall supporters that their effort was bipartisan. Key to that strategy was ensuring that no prominent Democrat appeared on the replacement ballot.
Though some questioned the strategy, it appears to have helped keep the party united behind Newsom.
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