SACRAMENTO, Calif. – President Joe Biden put Democrats’ approach to the coronavirus pandemic on the line Monday, casting the California recall that could remove Gov. Gavin Newsom from office as an opportunity for voters to show the nation that “leadership matters, science matters.”
“The eyes of the nation are on California because the decision you’re going to make isn't just going to have a huge impact on California, it’s going to reverberate around the nation, and quite frankly, not a joke, around the world,” the Democratic president said at a rally in the Southern California city of Long Beach.
The closing pitch from Newsom and his most prominent Democratic ally came a night before voting concludes in the race that could remove the first-term governor from office. He is just the fourth governor in U.S. history and the second in California to face a recall. Californians removed Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 and replaced him with Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Biden’s appearance underscored the importance to Democrats of keeping the governor’s office in the nation’s most populous state, where many progressive policies originate. Newsom and other prominent Democrats have cast the race as a battle The results of the race ending Tuesday will send signals about how voters are poised to react to Democrats who adopted aggressive pandemic policies in next year’s midterm elections, when control of Congress and half the nation’s governorships are at stake.
“Gavin will be a governor who will help us finish the job," Biden said, regarding the pandemic.
Just a half hour south from where Biden spoke, Republican front-runner and talk radio host Larry Elder was urging his supporters not to let up on getting out the vote among fellow Republicans, friends and neighbors in the race’s final 24 hours. The party needs a strong Election Day showing to catch up to Democrats who performed better in early voting, mostly by mail. Nearly 8 million Californians already have cast mail-in ballots.
“Make sure you have your friends vote, vote, vote, and try and get 10 more friends to vote and hit every call, make every call, knock on every door, we’re gonna win this thing if we turn out the vote,” Elder said from a hotel ballroom in the Orange County city of Costa Mesa. He then went through his standard stump speech of what he deems Newsom's failures on public education, water and wildfires, and crime.
Newsom has likened Elder as a California-version of former Republican President Donald Trump, branding him as in some ways even “more extreme.” Biden echoed that note, referring to Elder not by name but as “the closest thing to a Trump clone I’ve ever seen.”
Biden handily won California, though Trump earned more than 6 million votes in the state. California has more than 22 million registered voters.
California Republican Party Chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson called it “baffling and insulting” that Biden engaged in a political event when some Californians remain stuck in Afghanistan.
“It’s clear protecting those they were elected to serve comes second to politics,” she said in a statement.
Amateur Republican political organizers upset with Newsom’s approach to crime, homelessness and immigration launched the recall drive in early 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic got it to the ballot. Newsom was the first governor in the country to issue a statewide stay-at-home order that shuttered many businesses for months and kept kids out of classrooms.
“There’s no front that I can think of where this man has done a good job — not on schools, not on homelessness, not in the way he shut down this state,” Elder said earlier Monday.
Voters are being asked two questions: Should Newsom be recalled, yes or no, and who should replace him? The results of the second question only matter if a majority wants to remove Newsom. Recent polls from the Public Policy Institute of California and others showed Newsom defeating the recall.
Lead recall organizer Orrin Heatlie said neither Biden nor Trump should be weighing in on the contest because it's about California issues. Meanwhile, he said Trump's statement Monday calling the election rigged risks diminishing Republican turnout.
“When people aren't confident, if they don't have faith that their vote is going to count, then they're not going to waste their time to cast their ballot," Heatlie said.
There has been no confirmed evidence of widespread fraud. Elder's campaign website links to a website called “Stop CA Fraud" where people can sign a petition demanding a special election to investigate the election, even though the election hasn't concluded.
Before the rally, Biden toured wildfire damage in Northern California. He praised Newsom's leadership on responding to climate change, which is contributing to California's wildfires becoming bigger and more destructive. Elder and Republicans say Democratic leaders have failed to appropriately manage California's forests, leaving more fuel for fires to burn through.
Other prominent candidates in the race are Republicans Kevin Faulconer, Kevin Kiley and John Cox, and Democrat Kevin Paffrath.
Ronayne reported from Sacramento. Associated Press journalist Alexandra Jaffe contributed from Long Beach.
Catch up with AP's recall coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/california-recall