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California voters go to the polls on Tuesday to determine whether Democrat Gavin Newsom will become the third state governor in US history to be recalled from office.
Underlining the stakes for Democrats, president Joe Biden travelled to California on Monday for appearances with Newsom in Sacramento and the port city of Long Beach, where the first-term governor held his final campaign rally ahead of the vote.
“California, you’ve got to keep Gavin Newsom as your governor,” Biden told the crowd at Long Beach. “Don’t take anything for granted.”
After struggling in the polls for most of the summer, Newsom has attracted more support in the final stretch. The most recent poll by FiveThirtyEight showed 57.4 per cent of California voters wanted to “keep” the governor and 41.5 per cent wanted to “remove” him.
The governor faces 46 challengers on the ballot, which asks voters two questions: “Should Newsom be recalled?” and “Regardless of how you voted on the first question, who should he be replaced by?”
For Newsom to defeat the recall, a majority most respond “No” to the first question. If he does not meet that threshold, the challenger with the most votes in the second question will serve out the rest of his term.
Polls place Larry Elder, host of a syndicated conservative radio show, as the frontrunner among the candidates seeking to replace Newsom.
Other candidates include Kevin Faulconer, a Republican who was mayor of San Diego, John Cox, a Republican businessman whom Newsom defeated in 2019 and reality TV personality Caitlyn Jenner, who is running as a Republican. Kevin Paffrath, who hosts a real estate show on YouTube, is among the Democrats challenging Newsom.
Analysts said Newsom’s late rise in the polls was due in part to Democrats’ alarm at the prospect of victory by Elder, a Trump supporter who opposes abortion rights and has pledged to end California’s mask and vaccine mandates.
Biden took aim at Elder, comparing his policies on climate change, women’s rights and other issues to those of Donald Trump, the former president. “You either keep Gavin Newsom as your governor or you get Donald Trump,” he said. “That’s not a joke.”
Elder wrapped up his case on Monday night by urging his supporters to go to the polls, saying “we’re gonna win this thing if we turn out the vote”, AP reported.
But Elder’s campaign also began to make unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud in California, a claim echoed in a statement issued by Trump suggesting the poll was “rigged”.
A Republican has not won statewide election in California since 2006, so turnout on Tuesday is crucial to the party’s hopes of recalling Newsom. Democratic voters have dominated the mail-in vote.
Newsom saw off five previous Republican-led attempts to recall him. A sixth effort garnered enough signatures after he dined unmasked at The French Laundry restaurant as he was urging restraint on the public. His standing fell amid frustration at the state’s Covid-19 restrictions, including lengthy public school closures and bans on dining outdoors.
His critics have also attacked his response to the droughts, wildfires and homelessness that have plagued California.
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Only two governors of US states have been recalled: Lynn Frazier of North Dakota in 1921 and California’s Gray Davis, an unpopular Democrat who was defeated by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2003.
Since Davis’s defeat, the once-mighty California Republican party has faded as the state has grown more ethnically diverse. Registered Democrats now outnumber Republicans two to one.
The recall vote has cost the state more than $275m, and even if Newsom prevails he will face re-election next year. Regardless of the outcome, the state’s Democrats are expected to attempt reforming California’s 110-year-old rules governing recalls.