By Alberto Garcia
Gavin Newsom survived a recall election that at first seemed a possible threat to his political future but eventually failed to garner enough support to oust the state’s 40th Governor.
Late on election night, with potentially more than a million absentee ballots still left to be counted statewide, nearly 64% of the votes counted were for NO on the recall, with a margin of over 2.5 million between the NO and YES votes. More than 5.84 million voters chose NO on the recall.
“I want to focus on what we said yes to as a state,” Newsom said after the early results were in. “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 women’s fundamental, constitutional right to decide for herself what she does with her body and her fate and future. We said yes to diversity. We said yes to inclusion.”
In San Diego County, voters went 58.6% No on the recall with only 41.4% choosing YES and about 150,000 votes separating the two sides.
The Republican-led recall effort sought to use voters’ angst over the state’s COVID-19 restrictions, raging wildfires, and serious water drought to remove the still-popular Newsom from office in a low-turnout special election that could have given Republicans a chance to win a statewide office they usually struggle to win in general elections.
The last gubernatorial recall took place in 2003 when Democratic Governor Gray Davis was removed from office and action movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, went on to serve two terms as the state’s chief executive.
This recall election required nearly 1.5 million registered voter signatures to qualify for the ballot before an election was called. After it qualified, 46 candidates signed up to replace Newsom if more than 50% of the votes were in favor of recalling the Governor.
One of the candidates seeking to be the replacement was San Diego’s former Mayor, Kevin Faulconer, who ended his two-term tenure here just last December. A moderate Republican, Faulconer hoped to capture enough votes from a combination of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents to best the field of mostly unknown challengers.
But a late entry into the race ended up sinking Faulconer’s chances.
Conservative radio show host Larry Elder, a Republican and African American who supports Donald Trump and repeated debunked conspiracy theories about election fraud, gained momentum and surpassed both Faulconer and another well-known Republican, John Cox.
Cox ran for Governor against Newsom in the 2018 election but lost by a margin of 62% to 38%.
Because the first question on the ballot to recall Newsom failed to garner at least 50% of the vote, the outcome of the votes for the replacement candidate did not come into play. Only had voters chosen to recall Newsom would a replacement have been selected from the other candidates.
Among the replacement candidates, Elder is leading statewide at 46.9% with more than 2.37 million votes. Youtube real estate advisor Kevin Paffrath, a 29-year-old Democrat, is second at 9.8% of the vote with over 497,000 votes, and Faulconer is in third at 8.6% of the vote with 436,000 votes.
Faulconer, who was expected to perform well in San Diego County, came in a distant second to Elder by a large margin of 45.1% to 15.7% in our region, more than 162,000 votes separating the two Republicans. The San Diego County Registrar of Voters estimates that approximately 310,000 ballots still remain to be counted.
“Tonight was Round One, there’s more to come,” Faulconer told supporters in a concession speech that seemed to suggest he will continue running in to challenge Newsom in his upcoming re-election next year.
But the harsh reality for the middle-of-the-road Faulconer may be that the Republican Party continues to be dominated by Trump voters who support the more confrontational politics favored by the former President, including promoting conspiracy theories about election fraud, opposition to face mask mandates during the pandemic, and questioning the efficacy of vaccines.
Faulconer also continues to be dogged by questions about his involvement in the continuing financial debacle of the 101 Ash Street building in downtown San Diego. Cox’s campaign used the issue, but failed to connect with statewide voters. The questions will continue if Faulconer decides to run again in next year’s elections.
For his part, Elders said tonight that he may have lost the battle, but not the war.
And after days of suggesting, without any evidence, that the election was tainted with fraud, Elders tonight acknowledged his loss and urging his supporters to “be gracious in defeat.”
Another replacement candidate that failed to gain any significant traction in the race was Caitlyn Jenner, the former reality TV star and transgender activist famous for being related to the Kardashian siblings. Jenner is at 1.1% of the vote with 55,797 votes cast for her.
“I can’t believe that this many people actually voted to keep [Newsom] in office,” she said. “It’s a shame.”
Newsom’s current term expires in January 2023. He will face re-election in next year’s June Primary and November General Elections.