LOS ANGELES – For a while this summer, Gavin Newsom’s entourage feared the effort to recall him was coming uncomfortably close.
In late July and early August, the Delta variant of the coronavirus was raging, threatening the reopening of schools in the fall. Public polls have shown that many Democrats were so apathetic to voting that it was possible – if the turnout was low enough – that a Republican could win.
“Clearly there was a time in the summer when the thing went from … this optimism [about Covid] like, ‘Oh, the war is over, it’s over’, to ‘Oh, shit’, ”said Ace Smith, Newsom’s senior strategist.
In this context, directors involved in the campaign detailed a furious effort by Newsom’s campaign to put the race out of reach for Republicans. The turning point in the campaign, according to Newsom strategists, came in the governor’s adoption of aggressive mask and vaccine mandates – both very popular in California – and in Newsom’s avalanche of spending describing his main opponent Republican, Larry Elder, as an anti-science. clone of former President Donald Trump.
“It was about making the campaign a referendum on the opposition, and not just some sort of simulation exercise on the incumbent president,” said Sean Clegg, a senior Newsom strategist who oversaw the paid media and campaign messages.
Clegg narrowed down the Newsom campaign’s closing argument to not rejecting the alternative: “A ‘yes’ vote for this recall means electing a pro-Trump anti-vaccine Republican who will quash the terms on day one.” It was the presentation of this “simple choice,” said Smith, that marked the “turning point” of the campaign, cementing Newsom’s victory.
On labor day, Newsom had turned what had started as a vote for or against his governorship into a choice between himself and Elder, the Newsom radio host unabatedly attached to Trump – with a predictable result in this staunchly Democratic state . For Newsom, Elder’s emergence as the GOP flag bearer was an unexpected gift, so beneficial to the governor that many Republicans came to resent Elder for turning the race into a traditional choice election – and impossible to win.
Less than 50 minutes after the polling centers closed on Tuesday night, Newsom’s defeat against the recall was reported by four television networks and the Associated Press, ending a run that started as an almost laughable longshot, is Unexpectedly become competitive, then moved to where it started, with Newsom prevailing in a blowout.
Even before the final ballots were cast, Newsom advisers were selling his campaign as a model for Democrats nationwide in the midterm elections. Mandates for masks and vaccines such as those adopted by Newsom are viewed favorably by a majority of Americans, polls show. For Democrats, Smith said, “There is one huge thing to remember, which is not to be shy about Covid. This was the turning point of this campaign, when Newsom came out and took bold action on vaccination mandates. … We go out and find out that not only is this a very good policy and a bold policy, which he was going to do no matter what, but it is actually a very good policy.
While Newsom’s response to the coronavirus ultimately helped him beat the recall, that was also one of the main reasons he faced the foreclosure threat in the first place. At the end of last year, Newsom’s opponents, citing difficulties collecting signatures during the pandemic, successfully asked a Sacramento judge last year to extend their signature collection window by an additional 120 days. , giving them enough time to transform what would likely have been a doomed signing. unite efforts into a successful effort. That same month, Newsom was caught attending a dinner party at French Laundry, a world-famous restaurant in Napa Valley, California, as he discouraged locals from congregating for the holidays.
Newsom later called his exit a “bad mistake” and months later advisers were still struggling to explain it. One adviser simply shook his head. Another said, “When you’re governor of California you have advanced teams, you have people who can figure this shit out for you, and it hasn’t been done. “
“It was incredibly damaging. Maybe not in the end. But that was the boost the recall organizers needed, ”the adviser said. “Most political news fails to catch real people’s awareness in quotes, and this one broke because it was easy to understand and easy to get excited about, no matter what your political affiliation. “
Republicans hammered on Newsom for his hypocrisy. Yet even then – even after the qualified recall for the ballot – the numbers were on his side. It’s a state where Democrats are almost 2 to 1, where Newsom beat his 2018 Republican opponent John Cox by 3 million votes, and where Joe Biden, who campaigned for Newsom in Long Beach on Monday, has beat Trump by almost 30 percentage points two years later.
With the president’s power, Newsom has raised more than $ 70 million, eclipsing his Republican opponents. And Newsom’s allies have been successful in dissuading any other prominent Democrats from joining the race. Unlike 2003, when the government of the day. Gray Davis was recalled and replaced by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger – with Democratic Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante also on the ballot – Democratic-leaning voters on Tuesday had no viable alternative to hijack Newsom’s votes.
In an interview, Davis said he believed ahead of California’s filing deadline this year that a celebrity could enter the race, a wild card he said could have “dramatically improved” Republicans’ prospects.
“In California, fame is the currency of the real world,” Davis said. “If you have Oprah Winfrey running, or if you have ‘The Rock’ [Dwayne Johnson] running, or you’ve got George Clooney running, you’ve got a megastar. … It is the motto of the kingdom, and it is more important in California than in any other place.
But no megastar entered. A celebrity who showed up, Caitlyn Jenner, was not a postman. And the other, Elder, was nothing less than a boon to Newsom’s campaign – a reel of out-of-the-box highlights with his opposition to gun control and minimum wage, an ex- fiancee who said he had brandished a gun at her and her suggestion that it could be argued that the slave owners owed repairs.
Elder’s entry into the race – and his leap ahead of all the other Republican candidates – “woke everyone up, and just at the right time,” a Newsom adviser said. “It made it real.”
Even many Republicans have recognized the damage Elder has done. In a race where the GOP desperately sought to get the public’s attention singularly to Newsom, a strategist for supporters of the recall said: anti-vaccine guy.
The strategist said: “You combine that with the Delta virus explosion and in the news every day it was a perfect storm.”
Despite the advantage of having Elder to club, Newsom still had to persuade Democrats that it was worth running for. As recently as last month, a public poll suggested Democrats were much less motivated than Republicans to vote in elections – and less likely to participate in postal elections. To complicate Newsom’s efforts, the elections were held in a sluggish year.
Newsom’s internal polls had never shown him lagging behind. But Clegg said that “the huge gap in enthusiasm was real … that’s what worried us the most.”
“For us, it was always about whether we’re going to wake up the blue giant or are we going to sleep through this thing,” he said. “The challenge of the campaign from the very beginning was to create a sense of urgency on our side.”
But Newsom advisers believed public polls that put the race in the margin of error mistakenly assumed reluctant Democrats would not vote. Democrats, Smith said, may not have been keen on voting in a recall election, but “it was more like taking out the trash. They will just do it.
Still, the attention these public polls have drawn to the race has been invaluable to Newsom, creating a sense of urgency among Democratic voters.
Smith said, “Whenever something wakes up your base, you want to send them a thank you note.”
On Labor Day weekend, Newsom’s internal campaign polls saw it beat the recall by 10 percentage points or more, according to several advisers. And after that, their numbers barely budged. By the time Senator Elizabeth Warren, Vice President Kamala Harris and Biden came to the state to campaign with Newsom, the race was already over.
Newsom was just trying to climb the score.
The margin can matter. Ahead of the tally of the initial results on Tuesday, Newsom assistants pressured reporters not to block the first reported margin of victory, believing it would widen as postal ballots arriving in delay would be counted.
Newsom will be re-elected in just over a year, and some of the same Republicans who challenged him on the recall could run again, but now with a beating to their names. They include not only Elder and Cox, who got 42% and 4.8% of the vote in early returns, respectively, but also Kevin Faulconer, the former mayor of San Diego who was once considered by moderate Republicans in California to be the l one of the party members. most credible candidates for a statewide position in an otherwise slim bench. He got 9.8% of the vote in the first comebacks.
What Republicans failed to do on the recall, said Rob Stutzman, a GOP political strategist in California, was to elevate “someone who can appeal beyond the grassroots. And there is has a roadmap for that. It has been done, frankly, in the Blue States for decades … But you have to put a moderate one forward. “
Stutzman, who advised Schwarzenegger, said Faulconer “was the great hope” for Republicans this year, but never pivoted to independents and moderate Democrats after Elder entered the race and captivated the grassroots pro-Trump party.
“Now,” Stutzman said. “It will somehow have to regain donor confidence that next year would be different.”
Among the prospects next year for every Republican who ran for recall, he said, “all are worse” after Tuesday’s result.