The absurd recall election to replace Democratic Governor of California Gavin Newsom is upon us. All registered voters in California received mail-in ballots weeks ago and Tuesday is the last day for people to hand them in or vote in person. Turnout so far has been much better than expected for this oddly timed special election. That bodes well for Governor Newsom in a state in which Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1. Last week, 56% of returned ballots were from registered Democrats and about a quarter from registered Republicans. And it doesn’t appear that many of those ballots came from disgruntled Democrats.
The latest Los Angeles Times poll found that 60.1% of likely voters polled oppose Newsom’s recall compared to 38.5% in favor. That’s ten points more than the same poll had the ‘no’ in July and close to winning 62% to 38% in 2018. Most other polls are along the same lines, showing Newsom greatly exceeds 50%, which is the case. it will need to survive. It’s certainly possible that Republicans could still pull it off with a massive wave of same-day votes that includes many disgruntled independents and angry Democrats not counted in the polls, but it will be a tough exercise.
The big question is: what changed this for Newsom?
After a very complacent spring in which Democrats (including yours) assumed the recall was going nowhere, the poll began to scare over the summer. The analysis at the time was that Democrats just weren’t engaged as Republicans fought to topple a Democratic governor in a big blue state. So Newsom and the party mounted a major operation with a massive advertising buy. (This is unfortunately necessary in California, which has a very media-dependent political culture.)
The Newsom team began with positive ads over the summer, highlighting the positive results of the governor’s pandemic policy, including the one-time cash payments of $ 1,100 that he proposed in his budget. . But as its numbers started to drop, they relied much more on negative publicity, shifting to full press against GOP pandemic policies over the past month. They denounced radio talk show host Larry Elder, the Republican “frontrunner” to replace him, telling people about his far-right and extremist views. But they also sued Republicans in general, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbot. , with the great kahuna, Donald Trump. Newsom’s campaign has raised the specter of Republican governance in dark and ominous terms.
Ron Brownstein of the Atlantic points out that he explicitly emphasizes responding to the pandemic as the key to improving Newsom’s chances of survival. He quotes Oscar Lopez, the political director of the 700,000-member SEIU, who says that organizers on the ground find that voters are most receptive to messages that highlight the promises of GOP candidates to bundle mask mandates and repeal vaccine requirements for teachers and school staff. Brownstein reports that this concern is reflected in the poll:
A survey conducted at the end of August by the Public Policy Institute of California tested an idea that goes beyond even the mandates imposed so far by Newsom: to require proof of vaccination to enter “large outdoor gatherings” or “Restaurants, bars and gymnasiums”. Almost exactly three-quarters of state residents who took beatings (including more than two-fifths of vaccinated Republicans) supported such a mandate, according to detailed results provided by PPIC to The Atlantic. More than 90 percent of Californians who have not been vaccinated have opposed such demands. But because more than four-fifths of all adults in California have received at least one injection, that split resulted in strong majority support of 62% for such a “vaccine passport” mandate.
If Californians are careful, they will have seen the immediate hysterical reaction from many Republican governors to President Biden’s executive orders last week requiring companies with more than 100 people to require their employees to get vaccinated or tested once a week. . It’s reasonable to assume that this will only reinforce their intention to vote no on the recall if they haven’t already. The partisan division over the response to the pandemic is blatant.
Brownstein argues that Newsom’s strategy may be a model for some of the other off-year elections. Polls during the 2021 Virginia and New Jersey governors’ races show a similar response to Republican resistance to COVID mitigation strategies. The connection of Republican candidates to Trump and other national Republicans hostile to vaccines may well continue into the 2022 cycle.
In fact, it indicates a broader strategy that one hopes Democratic candidates will see and emulate in the future. While it is vitally important to educate voters on accomplishments and a positive agenda if it has not been evident before, it should be clear by now that we are in a period of such severe polarization that it all depends. of obtaining grassroots voters and Democrat-leaning independents prove to be. And that requires highlighting the very real threat of a Republican takeover.
In the past, the president’s party tended to fall asleep and forget to vote midterm, but there is no longer room for such complacency. Republicans are so far gone that they are pampering extremist insurgents and allowing thousands of people to needlessly die by responding to the minority’s refusal to do what is necessary. They must do what Newsom does: avoid happy words and engage in political combat instead.
It would have been more difficult if the Republicans had put Donald Trump behind them. But he is still the clear leader of the GOP and will undoubtedly campaign and raise the MAGA base across the country next year. But he and the Republicans won’t be able to count on those suburban voters who tend to vote midterm because they despise Trump and are petrified by the DeSantis / Abbott wing of the Republican Party who has treated the pandemic as a weapon. deadly partisan. It’s going to be very difficult for Republicans to win without them.
Democrats must remind them and the rest of their base of exactly what is at stake and they must ignore the political establishment and the media which will demand that they deliver a “positive” message insisting that the campaigns negative turns people off. For better or worse, this is an era of negative partisanship in which fear and disgust for the other party is the primary motivation for political engagement. Ignoring this reality is a dangerous political mistake.
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