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By the time President Biden made it to California to help its governor, Gavin Newsom, avoid removal by way of a recall election held on Tuesday, the fear of a GOP takeover had largely disappeared.
According to a University of California at Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll released last Friday, nearly 60 percent of likely voters polled said they opposed recalling Newsom, compared to 38.5 percent who supported removing Newsom and filling his term with someone else. Similarly, A Survey USA and the San Diego Union-Tribune poll showed 54 percent of likely voters saying Newsom should remain in office, while just 41 percent said they planned to vote “yes” on the recall. Both are a far cry from the poll co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times released at the end of July that showed the anti-recall effort holding just a three-point advantage over the anti-Newsom forces among likely voters.
In spite of previous anger over Newsom’s lockdowns, it proved highly unlikely that voters would successfully stage a repeat of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2003 victory over incumbent Gray Davis. But as Biden warned on Monday night for a final campaign stop in Long Beach, the national importance of defeating the effort couldn’t be understated, no matter what the polls showed.
“California, I’m not sure you know it but if you didn’t know it, you should,” Biden said. “This is not hyperbole: The eyes of the nation are on California. Because the decision you’re about to make isn’t just going to have a huge impact on California, it’s going to reverberate around the nation and, quite frankly — it’s not a joke — around the world.”
Biden’s stop marked the closing campaign act for Newsom, but plenty of other national party figures also lent their voices to the governor’s bid to keep power. Last week, Vice President Kamala Harris returned to the state to court voters on Newsom’s behalf. Former President Obama, Senators and former presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders, and Amy Klobuchar all lent their support.
Biden praised Newsom’s handling of the pandemic and urged attendees to vote. “Folks, send a message to the nation: Courage matters, leadership matters, science matters. Vote to keep Gavin Newsom,” he said at the time. But it was Biden’s invocation of Trump and his likening him to conservative talk show host Larry Elder, the leading Republican candidate to replace Newsom, that showed up what this mess of a campaign was really about. The president noted that “there’s too much at stake” to allow Elder to win out — a message an imperiled governor couldn’t wait to embrace.
“We may have defeated Donald Trump, but we have not defeated Trumpism,” Newsom said to the crowd before Biden took the stage. “Trumpism is still on the ballot in California and that’s why it’s so important, not just for all of us here — 40 million Americans strong in the nation’s largest and most populous state — but also to send a statement all across the United States of America that Trumpism has no place here, and Trumpism will be defeated all across the United States of America, because we’re better than that.”
How convenient a message for Newsom, who is largely responsible for helping stoke the anger that led to this recall after he was outed for violating his own Covid-19 protocols — at a fancy restaurant, no less. That is nothing to say of the homelessness situation across the state. As I write this from Los Angeles, I feel compelled to mention that although I’ve long known homelessness to be an issue in the area, it’s never been this bad. It is inescapable. Newsom touts a booming economy yet there is widespread inequality that has yet to be seriously tackled: the evidence is there, everywhere.
For all the talk of Trump being a plutocrat, the Democratic governor of the bluest state in the country showed a callous attitude toward a large section of this population by failing to seriously address homelessness during his campaign. Still, of course, Biden and Newsom are correct. Elder very much is an unserious man who would probably have made for a dangerous governor.
We can presume that, if elected, Elder would have governed exclusively to the Fox News, Newsmax, and OAN primetime programming bloc. People would likely have suffered and died.
On the same day Biden campaigned for Newsom, Elder said at a rally: “So what they’re afraid of is Larry Elder, from the hood, who attended a public school, is going to break that stranglehold Democrats have over Black and brown parents, specifically over the issue of school choice.” Well, we’ve all seen that movie before and needn’t repeat it.
However, I’ve already heard too many argue that the takeaway from Newsom surviving is that Democrats can campaign effectively and successfully on Covid. To my mind, that is a misguided musing from people detached from how broke most people in America — and especially California — are. If anything, this recall election, even if it did result in victory, is another example of how Democrats create their own nightmares. By doing nothing with the power given to them, thus creating apathy among their own voters and greater resentment from the right, they allowed this to happen in the first place.
Newsom played into Democratic stereotypes of an out-of-touch politician that can’t be trusted. If not for the elevation of Larry Elder — something Trumpist Republicans just couldn’t resist, to their detriment — he might have been easily replaced by someone else. People shouldn’t have to fear an unstable political candidate to go and vote. Survival shouldn’t be the only motivating factor in an election, and certainly not in a state purported to be a model on how to govern.
Newsom keeps his governors’ seat today, but Democrats ought to see this for the hollow victory that it is. A win in California after a hard-fought recall election in a blue state is hardly a triumph to be celebrated; instead, it should be recognized as a warning.