Stay or go? Californians to decide fate of Gov. Gavin Newsom in recall election

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LOS ANGELES (NewsNation Now) — After a year of debate that laid bare divisions in America’s most populous state, Californians Tuesday will decide whether to allow Gov. Gavin Newsom to keep his job in the state’s highest office or swap him out with a more conservative candidate.

Newsom’s ouster would be a stunning rebuke in heavily Democratic California, where the party controls every statewide office, dominates the Legislature and congressional delegation and holds a nearly 2-to-1 advantage in registered voters. Less than three years ago, he was elected in a landslide.

“I’m feeling good, as long as we can get out that vote,” Newsom said after greeting volunteers in San Francisco hours before the polls closed.

A recall election has a less predictable dynamic than a regular election, he said.

“They designed this to catch us while we’re sleeping,” Newsom said. “But I think you’ve seen in the early voting Democrats have been coming out strong, and I’m just humbled by that.”

The recall effort targeting Newsom began in February 2020, led by a group called the California Patriot Coalition. Collections increased in the fall and winter as anger intensified about Newsom’s handling of the pandemic, but thousands of signatures remain unverified by election officials.

Newsom saw his popularity continue to tumble throughout 2020 as the public unrest spread over long-running school and business closures, a still-unfolding unemployment benefits scandal and his decision to attend a party with friends and lobbyists at an opulent restaurant while telling residents to stay home.

Voters are now being asked two questions: Should Newsom be recalled, yes or no, and, if he is ousted, who should replace him? The results of the second question are irrelevant if a majority of voters support retaining Newsom.

Newsom ended his campaign to stay in office with a final push late Monday from President Joe Biden, who warned that the outcome of the contest could shape the country’s direction on the pandemic, reproductive rights and the battle to slow climate change.

Speaking to hundreds of cheering supporters during a twilight rally outside of Los Angeles, Biden referred to the leading Republican candidate Larry Elder as “the clone of Donald Trump.”

A large screen shows President Joe Biden as he speaks at a rally with California Gov. Gavin Newsom ahead of the California gubernatorial recall election, Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, in Long Beach, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

“Can you imagine him being governor of this state?” Biden asked, as the crowd responded with shouts of “No, no!”

“The eyes of the nation are on California,” he warned. The recall vote is “going to reverberate around the nation and … around the world.”

Biden’s visit in the waning hours of the race was intended as a final effort to motivate the state’s more than 10 million Democratic voters. Newsom’s advisers, meanwhile, expressed increasing confidence that the governor would survive the effort to drive him out of office more than a year before the end of his first term. The campaign had 25,000 volunteers on the streets over the weekend, and has sent 31 million text messages to voters.

“There’s no scenario where we lose tomorrow,” Newsom strategist Sean Clegg said.

Elder staged his capstone rally in nearby Orange County, where he urged his supporters to reach out to friends and neighbors and urge them to vote. The GOP will need a heroic election day turnout to catch Democrats who have been turning in mail ballots in larger numbers. Nearly 8 million Californians already have cast mail-in ballots.

“Make sure you have your friends vote, vote, vote, and try and get 10 more friends to vote and hit every call, make every call, knock on every door, we’re gonna win this thing if we turn out the vote,” Elder said from a hotel ballroom in Costa Mesa.

Republican conservative radio show host Larry Elder speaks at a rally for the California gubernatorial recall election on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, in Monterey Park, Calif. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Other prominent candidates in the race are Republicans Kevin Faulconer, Kevin Kiley, former reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner and John Cox, and Democrat Kevin Paffrath.

Newsom, a former lieutenant governor and San Francisco mayor, was elected governor in 2018 with almost 62% of the vote. He would be up for re-election in 2022.

He is the fourth governor in U.S. history and the second in California to face a recall. Californians removed Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 and replaced him with Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.

This story is developing. Refresh for updates.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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