California voters have rejected a move to unseat their governor in a recall election, a rarely used provision of direct democracy in some 20 U.S. states.
As the ballot count continued Wednesday, nearly two-thirds of voters had rejected the recall effort, and Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, turned back 46 challengers in an election where former President Donald Trump was an unseen player.
Democrats urged a “No” vote on the recall, but Newsom said Tuesday night at a victory celebration that the result was an affirmation of his and his party’s values.
“We said yes to science. We said yes to vaccines. We said yes to ending this pandemic,” he said.
Newsom’s leading challenger, conservative radio host Larry Elder, a Republican, said COVID-19 precautions such as masks and vaccines should be voluntary and not mandated by politicians. That view disturbed voter Alice Frankston.
“COVID is quite real, and we’re not done with it yet, and we need to keep with the fight,” she told VOA after voting “No” on the recall.
As early voting was under way Monday, President Joe Biden campaigned in California against the recall and Elder.
“He’s the clone of Donald Trump,” Biden said of Elder at a Newsom rally in Long Beach. “Can you imagine him being the governor of this state?” The partisan crowd yelled, “No.”
Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said that for Democrats, dislike of Trump became a powerful motivator in voting down the recall.
“I think what the California result proves is that Donald Trump is still toxic to Democrats, and using Trump as a campaign issue will produce lots of Democratic votes,” he said.
But Democrats were worried, as Republicans rallied around Elder over dozens of rival candidates, said analyst Shannon Bow O’Brien.
“They brought big-named national Democrats out to rally the troops. I think that betrayed that they considered this a serious threat,” said O’Brien, an associate professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin.
In addition to showcasing Biden, Democrats aired anti-recall ads from leading party figures, including U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Some ongoing issues hurt Newsom, including California’s high crime rate and rising homelessness, prompting voters like Roger Neal to support the recall.
“I’ve been living in Southern California for 40 years … and I just think that we need new leadership,” he said.
Newsom, a former mayor of San Francisco and a former lieutenant governor, will face voters again next year in a regular election for a second four-year term. Elder, as he conceded defeat Tuesday, told supporters and reporters that the fight was not over.
“We recognize that we lost the battle, but we are certainly going to win the war,” he said.
It will be an uphill fight. Nearly half of California voters are registered as Democrats, while fewer than one-quarter are registered as Republicans.
And California’s Republican Party is moving away from moderate voters, said Sabato.
“What we’re seeing here is a party that has moved to Trump and to the right so far that they can’t win statewide elections in California,” he said.
Khrystyna Shevchenko of VOA’s Ukrainian Service contributed to this report.