California Recall: Candidates make final Election Day push in hours before polls close

As the clock ticked toward the polls closing at 8 p.m., Gov. Gavin Newsom and his challengers made a final push on election day to turn out voters in a recall that will determine the leader of the Golden State and the current governor’s political future.

Newsom made a last-minute stop in San Francisco early Tuesday afternoon at a union hall to thank campaign volunteers for making calls and sending texts to party members on his behalf before heading to Sacramento to watch the returns. In Southern California, leading replacement candidate Larry Elder was gearing up for what his campaign dubbed a “victory party” at a hotel in Orange County.

“We’re going to change California,” Elder told supporters in a video posted to his Twitter page Tuesday. “In fact, we’re going to change the world.”

Republican businessman John Cox, who ran and lost against Newsom in 2018, wrapped up a bus tour Tuesday morning in Long Beach, where Newsom campaigned Monday night with President Joe Biden, before heading to Rancho Santa Fe in San Diego to wait for the results. And reality star Caitlyn Jenner cast her ballot in-person at Beverly Hills City Hall.

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – Sept. 14: Governor Gavin Newsom poses for a photograph with Remneek Saini on the last day of the recall election, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at a campaign stop at the IBEW union hall in San Francisco, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

While polls of likely voters appeared close over the summer, more recent surveys suggest Newsom is very likely to keep his job. A poll released Friday by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies found Newsom leading by more than 20 points, with 60.1% of likely voters saying they planned to vote no on the recall.

Still, anything could happen.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Political Data Inc., which runs a widely respected election tracker, reported that more than 9.4 million ballots had been returned — about 42% of the roughly 22 million distributed to active registered voters across the state. While Democrats returned more mail-in ballots, Republican turnout has ticked up in recent days as in-person vote centers have opened. By midday Tuesday, Republicans, who account for about 24% of registered voters, made up about 26% of ballots returned. But they are still millions of votes behind Democrats, who account for about 47% of registered voters.

“To make up this huge gap, pro-recall voters will need a massive surge” Tuesday, according to Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc.

On Tuesday morning, that pro-recall surge did not appear to be materializing locally, even among residents who are not big fans of Newsom.

Alex Shvakel, who grew up in Danville and now studies premed at UC Davis, said he seriously considered voting yes on the recall because Newsom comes across as arrogant. If Newsom is up for re-election next year, the registered Democrat also might consider voting for another candidate in the primary. But Shvakel ended up voting no on principle: He said the recall process is wrong and unfair and said Newsom should be able to finish out his four-year term.

And while Shvakel said he personally wouldn’t “want to have dinner” with Newsom and might not vote for him again, he doesn’t hold the governor’s French Laundry scandal, which helped fuel support for the recall, against him.

Gubernatorial recall candidate Larry Elder meets with lunch patrons at Philippe’s in Los Angeles Monday, September 13, 2021. Elder has established himself as the frontrunner should voters recall Gov. Gavin Newsom in Tuesday’s election. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG) 

“His French laundry dinner was super bad timing,” Shvakel said. “But at the same time, if I said that I never made a mistake during the pandemic, then I’d be lying.”

In-person voting appeared to be light Tuesday across the Bay Area, including Contra Costa County, which kept open all 153 polling stations despite a growing preference for mail-in ballots. In Contra Costa, Alameda and Santa Clara counties, roughly half of registered voters had submitted their mail-in ballots by Monday. For Santa Clara County, that meant that about the same number of people who voted by mail before the November presidential election had done the same in the recall.

Even before polls closed and results rolled in, Elder and some Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, were suggesting without evidence that the recall election was perhaps fraudulent and untrustworthy.

Newsom hit back at the idea forcefully during his stop in San Francisco.

“This election fraud stuff is a crock,” he said. “It’s shameful…grow up.”

“These people are literally vandalizing our democracy, our trust in our institutions,” Newsom continued. “Guys like me come and go, we’re a dime a dozen…it’s about our institutions.”

Staff photographer Karl Mondon contributed reporting. 

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Author: Emily DeRuy, Martha Ross, Julia Prodis Sulek