California Gov. Gavin Newsom. (Photo by JUSTIN SULLIVAN / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)
California voters went to the polls Tuesday to decide whether to oust the Democratic governor of the most populous US state or have him serve out the remaining 16 months of his term.
Gavin Newsom, who was elected in a landslide in November 2018, is widely expected to survive the quirky recall election, fending off a field of 46 challengers, mostly Republicans.
Polls are due to close at 8:00 pm (0300 GMT Wednesday) in the Golden State, which boasts the world’s fifth biggest economy, and where many Californians have already voted by mail.
The ballot asks firstly if the 53-year-old Newsom should be fired, and secondly who should replace him if he goes.
To remain in office, Newsom needs to win more than 50 percent of the vote. If he fails to reach that threshold, the challenger with the highest vote total — no matter how small the number — becomes governor.
After a shaky start, the telegenic Newsom, a former mayor of San Francisco, looks set to survive the recall. Poll-crunching website fivethirtyeight.com predicted on Tuesday that 57.3 percent will vote to keep him.
President Joe Biden flew to California on Monday to lend support to his fellow Democrat and warned voters they risk a Donald Trump-style governor if they remove Newsom.
“You either keep Gavin Newsom as your governor or you get Donald Trump,” Biden told an audience in Long Beach. “Voting no will be protecting California from Trump.”
Newsom also raised the specter of the former Republican president, a figure widely loathed in a state where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans two to one.
“Trumpism is still on the ballot in California,” he said.
Newsom’s main challenger is Larry Elder, 69, a right-wing talk radio star who has openly supported Trump.
Before polls even closed Elder took a page out of Trump’s 2020 election playbook, launching on Monday night a website alleging voter fraud and demanding state officials “investigate and ameliorate the twisted results” of the election.
The Black ex-lawyer is polling atop a field of hopefuls that includes a cannabis consultant, a former San Diego mayor, reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner and a self-proclaimed “Billboard Queen.”
Also on the ballot is former Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox, who won just 38 percent of the vote in 2018 to Newsom’s 62 percent.
The recall initiative, which has cost the state some $280 million, was sparked by Republicans angry over mask mandates and Covid lockdowns.
Republicans were upset by Newsom’s rules they say unnecessarily kept children out of school and suffocated small businesses as the coronavirus killed thousands in the state.
Mary Beth, a 63-year-old business owner casting her ballot Tuesday in Los Angeles, said she voted to “get rid of Newsom” because “the virus created chaos in our economy but he made it even worse with his lockdowns.”
“There were other ways to handle that and he should have made businesses the priority,” she said.
Democrats complain that the Republican-led recall is an attempt to hijack the state’s government: seizing power in extraordinary circumstances when they could never do it in a regular poll.
Although Newsom won handily in 2018, California’s electoral rules set the bar low for getting a recall up and running.
Malcontents need only gather signatures equivalent to 12 percent of the number of people who voted in the last election — in this case, 1.5 million.
California’s population is around 40 million.
“This whole recall is ridiculous,” said Jake, a 38-year-old tech industry worker voting Tuesday in Los Angeles who preferred not to give his last name.
“I did the math and even if every registered voter turns out, it would cost more than $12 per vote,” he said. “A lot of people could have had a breakfast with that this morning.”
The recall is only the second in California’s history to qualify for the ballot; the first brought bodybuilder-turned-actor Arnold Schwarzenegger to office in 2003.
“The Governator,” who ended up running the state for more than seven years, was California’s last Republican chief executive.
The petition to remove Newsom gathered steam after he was snapped having dinner at a swanky restaurant, seemingly in breach of his own Covid rules and fuelling a perception he was an out-of-touch hypocrite.