Voters in the western U.S. state of California overwhelmingly rejected an effort to remove Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom from office.
With about two-thirds of the expected vote counted, Newsom by early Wednesday was defeating the Republican-led recall effort by a 64-to-36% margin. He can now serve out the remainder of his four-year term ending in early 2023, although he is planning to run for reelection next year.
In Tuesday’s election, the majority of voters cast a “no” vote, saying Newsom should not be recalled. That made moot the second question on the ballot: Who should replace Newsom if the majority wanted to oust him?
Had Newsom lost the recall vote in the heavily Democratic state, Larry Elder, a conservative radio talk show host and supporter of former Republican President Donald Trump, would have become governor, since by law, the 53-year-old Newsom could not be among the list of possible choices to replace himself. Elder led 46 other candidates, most of them Republicans.
Newsom is the second California governor in 18 years to face a recall vote. In 2003, voters removed Democrat Gray Davis and installed popular Hollywood actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican.
Newsom is also the second U.S. governor in nine years to survive a recall vote. In 2012, conservative Governor Scott Walker in the midwestern state of Wisconsin defeated a recall vote but eventually lost a reelection bid in 2018.
Recall elections are common in California, the most populous U.S. state, in which voters angered by the performance of elected public officials can petition to hold recall votes before an official’s term expire. Along with Newsom, several municipal officials in the state faced recall votes on Tuesday.
The recall effort against Newsom was launched by Republicans who opposed his strict COVID-19 rules throughout the coronavirus pandemic, including school closures and restrictions on small businesses such as bars and restaurants.
Newsom didn’t help his political standing when he ignored one of his coronavirus orders and dined last year without wearing a mask or social distancing at an upscale restaurant in California's wine-making region. Later, anti-Newsom organizers secured enough signatures of registered voters to force a recall ballot.
As the outcome became apparent late Tuesday, Newsom told supporters, “'No is not the only thing that was expressed tonight. We said yes to science, yes to vaccines, yes to ending this pandemic."
Weeks ago, voter surveys showed a close vote on whether Newsom should be recalled. But with his fate in doubt, Democrats rallied around him, and he campaigned relentlessly.
Leading national Democratic figures, including President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, visited the state to lend their support at political rallies, while former President Barack Obama appeared in a Newsom television ad.
Elder easily trounced the other challengers by winning nearly 47% of the vote on the question of who should replace Newsom if he was recalled. In a concession speech early Wednesday morning, Elder urged his supporters to “be gracious in defeat.”
But he also teased a possible run against Newsom in 2022, declaring, “We may have lost the battle, but we are going to win the war.”
Newsom equated the recall effort, and especially Elder’s presence on the ballot, to support for Trump, a deeply unpopular figure among California Democrats.
“We defeated Donald Trump, we didn’t defeat Trumpism,” Newsom said. “Trumpism is still alive all across this country.”
Newsom is a prominent figure among national Democrats, having previously served as mayor of the city of San Francisco and California lieutenant governor before he was elected governor in 2018.