LOS ANGELES – Republicans, vastly outnumbered by Democrats in California, needed a huge turnout in this week's recall election to have any chance of removing Gov. Gavin Newsom from office. It didn’t happen.
About 9.2 million votes were counted Tuesday and an estimated 2.9 million were still left to tally. That suggests overall turnout was around 55%, about average for a California midterm election and way below the 80% that voted in the 2020 presidential race.
Last year, then-President Donald Trump received more votes than any Republican presidential candidate in state history — over 6 million — but was trounced by Democrat Joe Biden, who collected more than 11 million.
Early polling in the recall contest suggested Republicans were highly motivated to remove Newsom in the rare, late-summer election. The party represents only 24% of registered voters, so the GOP needed an enthusiastic turnout and a robust showing from conservative-leaning independents to reach the majority vote required to oust Newsom.
Instead, Newsom appears headed for about 64% support.
“Republicans would have needed such a dramatic turnout differential in order to make headway in this election that it basically was impossible with the lay of the land,” said Jessica Trounstine, chair of the political science department at the University of California, Merced.
This year, if trends hold as later-arriving mail-in ballots are tallied, support for the recall would end up with about 4.5 million votes, or about 37% of the total. In 2018, Republican John Cox got about 4.7 million votes, or 38%, in his blowout loss to Newsom, indicating GOP voters were no more enthused now than then.
Going into Tuesday's election, Northern California's Placer County is the kind of place where pro-recall forces would have expected strong support. Democrats hold a nearly 2-to-1 registration edge statewide, but Republicans have a 10-point advantage in Placer.
In the 2018 election, Placer turnout was about 75% and Cox beat Newsom by 18 percentage points. Turnout in the recall appears headed for around 52%, and support to oust Newsom had only a two-point edge as votes continue to come in.
In the one-time Republican stronghold of Orange County, an epicenter for resistance to Newsom’s COVID-19 restrictions that helped drive the recall effort, voters were rejecting his ouster by about 4 percentage points, incomplete returns showed.
Kern County had a 55% turnout in 2018 and delivered a 10-point win for Trump in 2020. Recall turnout appeared to be headed below 50%, and those favoring removing Newsom were leading by a wide margin. It was a similar situation in Madera County, which, like Kern, is part of California's vast Central Valley agricultural region that leans GOP. Madera turnout was trending 10 points lower than in 2018.
Cox, who was among the candidates running to replace Newsom had the recall been successful, said he had no explanation for the so-so showing by Republicans and conservative voters. He said he was dismayed that more recall supporters didn’t flock to the polls, pointing to the state's unchecked homeless crisis, rising crime rates and soaring housing costs.
“It’s inexplicable to me,” Cox said.
“Either they have given up or have gotten inured,” he speculated, suggesting that years of Election Day misery for California Republicans played a role in the GOP’s showing.