California recall election: Gavin Newsom crushes Republican bid to oust him as governor

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Gavin Newsom has comfortably won more than 50 per cent of the vote, according to US media projections - REUTERS
Gavin Newsom has comfortably won more than 50 per cent of the vote, according to US media projections - REUTERS

Californians voted overwhelmingly to keep their Democratic governor Tuesday, roundly rejecting a Republican attempt to unseat him in a special recall vote spurred by mask mandates and Covid lockdowns.

Gavin Newsom handily survived an effective confidence vote that could have seen him replaced by a Republican with only minority support in one of the most liberal parts of the United States.

With more than 60 per cent of the votes tallied, NBC and CNN both said that Mr Newsom was set to prevail, having secured around two-thirds of ballots.

Millions voted by mail, allowing quick counting of valid votes soon after polls closed at 8pm on the east coast (4am in the UK).

Speaking after US media called the result, Mr Newsom said there was "an overwhelming 'No' vote tonight", but he added: "I want to focus on what we said yes to as a state.

"We said yes to science. We said yes to vaccines. We said yes to ending this pandemic. We said yes to people's right to vote without fear of fake fraud or voter suppression. We said yes to a woman's fundamental constitutional right to decide for herself what she does with her body and her fate and future."

Mr Newsom, 53, had proudly boasted that he was following the science in ordering Californians to stay at home during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

But entrepreneurs blamed him for suffocating their businesses with his rules, and parents were frustrated at having to keep their children home from school.

Larry Elder had hoped to pull off a shock win for the Republicans - AP
Larry Elder had hoped to pull off a shock win for the Republicans - AP

Mr Newsom has seen off a field of 46 challengers, including main opponent Larry Elder, 69, a Right-wing talk radio star, who has openly supported ex-president Donald Trump.

Mr Elder took a page out of Trump's 2020 election playbook, launching a website alleging voter fraud and demanding state officials "investigate and ameliorate the twisted results" of the election.

The ballot asked firstly if 53-year-old Mr Newsom should be fired, and secondly who should replace him.

To remain in office, Mr Newsom needed to win more than 50 per cent of the vote, a threshold he appears to have reached with comfort, despite a shaky start.

A large mail-in vote that has already been pre-processed which has enabled preliminary results to come soon after polls closed. Counties are expected to begin announcing results soon, though postal ballots will still be counted until September 21 if they were sent before polls closed.

Mr Newsom, who shared a stump with President Joe Biden on Monday, had warned that a vote against him could allow Trump-supporting Republicans to take charge of this most liberal of states.

"Trumpism is still on the ballot in California," he said.

Mr Biden said that the results of the election in America’s most populous and richest state could shape the US's direction on climate change, the pandemic and reproductive rights.

Mr Elder, a Black ex-lawyer had led a field of hopefuls that included a cannabis consultant, a former San Diego mayor, reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner and a self-proclaimed "Billboard Queen".

Gavin Newsom was on Monday joined on the campaign trail by Joe Biden - EPA
Gavin Newsom was on Monday joined on the campaign trail by Joe Biden - EPA

The recall initiative, which has cost the state some $280 million, is one of 55 such efforts to depose a governor in state history.

The petition to remove Mr Newsom gathered pace after he was snapped having dinner at a swanky restaurant, seemingly in breach of his own Covid-19 rules, fueling a perception he was an out-of-touch hypocrite.

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.

Another pro-recall voter told AFP that he wanted someone who would not impose vaccine mandates - a divisive issue throughout the US.

"I feel very strongly that we need to get rid of our governor because I think he's just a corrupt Democrat, like the people we have in the federal government and we need them out," said Farid Efraim.

"We need somebody who really represents the people."

Caitlyn Jenner casting her ballot on Tuesday. The reality TV star is among an eclectic field of candidates - GETTY IMAGES
Caitlyn Jenner casting her ballot on Tuesday. The reality TV star is among an eclectic field of candidates - GETTY IMAGES

Democrats have complained that the Republican-led recall was an attempt to hijack the state's government: seizing power in extraordinary circumstances when they could never do it in a regular ballot.

A poll by Spectrum News and Ipsos published on Tuesday found that two-thirds of registered voters viewed the recall as a political power grab.

Although Mr Newsom won comfortably in 2018, California's electoral rules set the recall bar low. The governor's opponents needed signatures from only 12 per cent 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 on Tuesday, 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."

California's last Republican governor was Arnold Schwarzenegger, who won in 2003 - REUTERS
California's last Republican governor was Arnold Schwarzenegger, who won in 2003 - REUTERS

Vance Hagins said the recall process was an abuse.

"You have 40 people running for governor, half of them are nuts and have no chance at all of winning, yet their names are on the ballot, wasting our time," he said.

The only successful California recall 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 governor.

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