Why Dems Have to Win the CA Recall

Losing the California recall election would have disastrous consequences for the Democratic Party in California and beyond.

If you were sick and tired of high-stakes elections against Trumpists, I have some bad news for you. On September 14th, Californians will decide whether Governor Gavin Newsom should be recalled. For California residents like me (and many of you), this is a big deal that will directly impact our lives. But the election will have far-reaching implications for American politics and the Democratic Party as a whole.

Here’s what you need to know:

How Does the Recall Work?

For the non-Californians and the Californians who haven’t yet opened the ballot that was mailed to their house, the recall ballot has two questions: “Yes” or “No” on whether Newsom should be recalled and then a very long and ignominious list of possible replacements. If 50 percent vote “Yes” on question one, the candidate with the most votes on question two becomes governor of the world’s fifth-largest economy.

This is a very stupid system. Newsom is up for reelection next year. This is a massive waste of time, energy, and tens of millions of taxpayer dollars. The last time there was a recall in California, we ended up with this guy as governor:

If Newsom is recalled, his replacement will be much, much worse.

Could Newsom Really be Recalled?

This is not a drill. Newsom could absolutely be recalled and California — one of the bluest states in the land — would be governed by a Republican. This is not fearmongering. All the polls show that the recall election is basically a coin flip.

I understand why this is confusing and alarming. This is California for God’s sake. Biden beat Trump by nearly 30 points less than a year ago. In 2018, Newsom won the governorship by 24 points.

Based on the closeness of the recall election, you might assume that Newsom is unpopular.


According to a recent poll fromCBS News, 57 percent of Californians approve of the job he is doing as governor and 60 percent approve of his handling of the COVID outbreak. These are not the numbers of someone whose job should be in trouble, but as we sit here today Newsom’s job is very much in trouble.

Why So Close?

Off-year and special elections are all about enthusiasm. And there is a real enthusiasm gap in California right now. The people who want to recall Newsom are more fired up than those that want to keep him. In that CBS News poll, 72 percent of Republicans are very motivated to vote compared to only 61 percent of Democrats

If that gap doesn’t narrow, Newsom will likely lose.

Why Leave the Second Question Blank?

The Newsom Campaign has been instructing voters to vote “No” on the recall and leave the second question blank. This decision has led to a lot of questions and second-guessing. As someone who recently filled out their ballot, it feels weird to leave 50 percent of it blank. A lot of Democratic activists in the state are concerned about the absence of a belt-and-suspenders approach. If Newsom could lose, why shouldn't Democrats band together and pick the best alternative (i.e. not the many MAGA wannabes and reality television stars running)?

The answer is that California Democrats tried this approach on the last recall and it didn’t work. In that election, Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante was on the ballot in case Governor Gray Davis was recalled. After Davis lost and Bustamante received less than one-third of the votes, there was a belief that “No on the Recall, Yes on Bustamante” was too confusing a message for voters. Some voted “No”, but didn’t vote for Bustamante. Other Democrats dissatisfied with Davis voted “Yes” on the recall and then chose Bustamante.

This time around, Newsom strategists did not want to split the vote or give Democrats false hope they could recall the governor and replace him with a different Democrat. The math simply doesn’t work that way. This election is a choice between Gavin Newsom and Right-Wing, pro-Trump radio host Larry Elder.

In a very Democratic, anti-Trump state, polarizing and nationalizing the race gives Newsom the best chance. A similar strategy helped Republican Governor Scott Walker survive a 2012 recall in Wisconsin — a state Barack Obama would win handily only a few months later.

Larry Elder is Very, Very Bad

I know some Democrats are frustrated with Newsom and generally in a funk because the pandemic refuses to go away. We are tired of wearing masks. Parents are sick with worry that their children’s education requires potentially exposing them to a dangerous virus. Personally, I think Newsom has done a good job in a tough situation. Pre-pandemic he was undertaking some bold, progressive initiatives. But regardless of how you feel about Newsom, I want to be clear — Larry Elder would be an absolute disaster.

Elder is a Trump-loving, COVID-truthing, Big-Lie believing, Right-Wing zealot. He has spent his long career in Right-Wing media pushing conspiracy theories and spreading abject idiocy. Here are just a handful of his positions:

Additionally, Elder has spent years saying and writing horribly offensive things about women. According to the Los Angeles Times, Elder claimed in a since-deleted tweet that the women involved in the 2017 Women’s March were too unattractive to be victims of sexual assault.

Why Should You Care if You Don’t Live in CA?

For readers not in California, this recall election may feel distant or disconnected from your political concerns. But if California elects a MAGA-adjacent governor, the political ramifications will echo far beyond the Golden State’s borders. All across the country, Republicans will be emboldened. Money will pour into Republican campaign coffers. The message will be that if a Republican can win in California, they can win anywhere. Republican politicians will use Elder’s election to further embrace Trumpist positions.

The media will treat the election as a massive rebuke of Joe Biden and the Democratic agenda. As unfair and inaccurate as this assessment may be, the coverage will be brutal. I worry that it could imperil the Democratic legislative agenda much as the 2010 loss of a Senate seat in Massachusetts nearly stopped Obamacare in its tracks. It’s easy to see Centrist gadflies, like Representative Josh Gottheimer and Senator Kyrsten Sinema, using a loss in California as a reason to cut back on some of the progressive policies in the Build Back Better agenda.

A Newsom loss will also embolden the Republicans, like Ron DeSantis, that are playing politics with the pandemic; and possibly cause Democrats to pull back on the vaccine mandates necessary to slow the spread of COVID.

All in all, a loss on September 14th would be quite bad.

What You Can Do

  • If you live in California, send in your ballot as soon as possible. All ballots must be dropped off or postmarked by 8:00 PM on September 14th. The state of California has mailed ballots to every registered voter. They really couldn’t make it easier if they tried.

  • If you haven’t received your ballot, you can request one from your county or vote in person early or on Election Day.

  • If you know people in California, tell them to send in their ballot ASAP and inform them that the voter registration deadline is August 30th.

There are more than enough Democrats in California. The state makes voting as easy as possible. All we have to do is fill in one bubble on a ballot and send it back Losing is a choice born of apathy. Replacing Gavin Newsom with Larry Elder would be a disaster for California and the Democratic Party. It’s a fate we can avoid.