Melissa Harris-Perry: In the golden state a recall election that ends on Tuesday will decide whether California Governor Gavin Newsom will stay in office or be removed. Recent polling suggests Newsom has the necessary support to keep his current gig, but the governor isn't letting down his guard just yet.
Gavin Newsom: In September 14th, just a matter of days, you have the opportunity to determine the fate and future of this state. I would argue impact the fate and future of the United States of America. This is a consequential election.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I spoke with Libby Denkmann, senior politics reporter at KPCC in Southern California.
Libby Denkmann: California is one of 19 states that has a recall process for statewide elected officials. 12% of the people who voted in the last gubernatorial election had to sign a petition in order to qualify this effort for the ballot and that's a relatively low number compared to most other states who have a recall. Once that qualified for the ballot, there was a ballot measure scheduled to go for a vote before the general electorate, and September 14th, Tuesday is the day that voting closes here in California.
On our ballots in California, we have two questions. The first is whether we want to remove Gavin Newsom, the current governor of California. The second question is which of 46 candidates voters would like to choose to replace him. That first question Newsom has to clear 50% plus one in order to stay in office, and if he doesn't then the winner of a plurality of votes on the second question will become the next governor of California.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Wait, so first it's just, do you want Newsom out? Then second, the next person doesn't necessarily have to win a 50% plus one?
Libby Denkmann: That's right. It's a pretty interesting system because this is not a primary. There is no runoff. The winner of the second question on the ballot if the recall is successful could become governor with say 15% or 20% of the vote. There's no thresholds required as long as you beat the other candidates on the ballot and in this case, we see individual candidate, Larry Elder, a conservative talk show host from Los Angeles running away as the leader of the likely voters who would choose to replace Governor Newsom, but he's only polling at about a quarter of the average of likely voters.
If the recall is successful, again, that's a big if, he would become governor with just a quarter of the electorate support. However, Governor Newsom has been getting some good news lately, polling on the recall versus retain. The governor question has really widened in his favor in recent weeks, and the last few polls I've seen show Newsom beating the recall for between 12 and 14 points.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Of course, anyone will tell you polls are different than what actually happens on election day and I'm wondering if there is a sense of the extent to which democratic voters are really invested here, versus the extent to which Republican voters are really invested in turning out.
Libby Denkmann: There's no question about a month ago and six weeks ago, Melissa, that Democrats were sweating. They were seeing the polls that likely voters on the democratic side were not very interested in this race. Whereas Republicans had been fired up for months to remove the governor. In a state where Republicans are only about a quarter of registered voters, Democrats outnumber them about two to one and no party preference voters, independent voters are almost equal to Republicans now in California. At one point they surpassed Republicans.
This was an exciting time for conservative voters thinking that they might be able to sneak in here. It's an electorate where they haven't been able to elect a Republican statewide officials since 2006 since the Governor Schwartzenegger was reelected, himself, a candidate who won through a recall process. At first, the enthusiasm gap was something the Newsom campaign was very concerned about, but then you saw Newsom turn on the tap of money and he's been able to raise something in the neighborhood of $70 million to defeat this recall versus on the pro recall side, more modest numbers maybe between eight and 10 million for the top polling candidates on the GOP side.
Just nothing in the neighborhood of what Newsom has been able to raise, and when the ads started going, every internet video you pull up has a pre-roll ad practically in California asking voters to vote no on the recall and every sporting event you watch on television includes an anti-recall ad. That money seems to have been paying off. As have some high profile endorsements from national democratic all-stars.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Say more about the democratic all-stars who have shown up for Governor Newsom.
Libby Denkmann: Well, it's a who's who. The top names in the democratic party. You had Bernie Sanders cutting an ad pretty early on for Governor Newsom, urging people to vote no on the recall. Senator Elizabeth Warren has come in person. She was in Los Angeles County recently rallying with Newsom, so was Amy Klobuchar. Vice President Kamala Harris was in the Bay Area on Wednesday at a rally supporting Newsom, and that's an interesting sight to see, Melissa, because Kamala Harris and Governor Newsom have been somewhat considered rivals from Bay Area political circles for many years.
Governor Newsom has, of course, like many high profile governors thought about his own run for president, and when vice president Harris became the vice president that seemed to maybe close the door for him in the near future. These two appearing together on a stage United to voice their support for no on the recall, that was an interesting site for many political reporters. Then you have former president Barack Obama cutting an ad as well for Newsom and now President Biden's team has confirmed that the president will be in Long Beach in the Los Angeles area on Monday to rally supporters a day before voting closes on this recall.
Melissa Harris-Perry: There's no doubt politics makes very odd bedfellows, but it's also true that this governor has been quite tested. He's had to manage obviously coronavirus in the state and has been pretty aggressive in his management at the state level. From that perspective, obviously, the issues of drought, record-breaking wildfire seasons, these challenges do they tend to strengthen his argument for staying in office or weaken it?
Libby Denkmann: That's a great question. If you talk to Republican supporters of the recall, the efforts that governor Newsom has made to shut down the state during the height of COVID peaks in California, aggressive is the word for it. He was out in front on masking mandates and vaccine mandates even before CDC recommendations, before a lot of other states, in-person education at public schools was shut down for longer in California than in many other states.
Republicans say that this frustration has really fueled both the signature-gathering effort and voters who want to remove Newsom from office. However, the governor in recent weeks has really leaned into his record on COVID and said that he has saved lives with the restrictions that he put in place and has sounded the alarm that if Larry Elder, the top polling Republican were to be elected in this recall, Elder has promised to rescind COVID vaccine mandates and masking mandates on his first day in office.
Newsom says that that would be a mistake that walking back those measures would put us back in the bad times of COVID surges. The Republicans would say that this has helped their effort and Democrats are now in the last final days of this campaign leaning into Newsom's record on COVID.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Libby Denkmann is senior politics reporter at KPCC in Southern California. Thank you for joining us, Libby.
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