California’s pro-LGBTQ+ governor, Gavin Newsom, has prevailed over an attempt to recall him from office.
NBC News called the election for Newsom about 8:40 p.m., just 40 minutes after polls closed, as many votes had come in by mail or through early in-person voting. At that point the vote stood at 67 percent opposed to the recall, 33 percent in favor, with about 60 percent of the vote counted. CNN and several other outlets also projected that he will remain in office.
Newsom, a Democrat, was elected governor in 2018 after having served two terms as lieutenant governor. Before that, he was mayor of San Francisco, where he famously declared same-sex marriage legal in 2004 and officiated several marriages for same-sex couples at City Hall (the marriages were later voided).
The recall effort was mounted by California Republicans beginning in June 2020, out of opposition to Newsom’s handling of homelessness, housing costs, and immigration. It gathered steam this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Newsom had put strict shutdown orders in place but was accused of hypocrisy because he attended a birthday party, maskless, at the high-end French Laundry restaurant in the Napa Valley.
But most people in the heavily Democratic state approved of Newsom’s policies. They also feared who might replace him. In addition to asking if Newsom should be recalled, the ballot featured a second, optional question: Who should replace him? The front-runner among 46 candidates, 24 of them Republicans, was Larry Elder, a far-right talk show host who denies the existence of systemic racism (Elder himself is Black), is a major ally of Donald Trump, would revoke Newsom’s COVID mitigation policies, and is anti-LGBTQ+.
The other candidates included former Olympian and reality star Caitlyn Jenner, a Republican who alienated many of her fellow transgender people with anti-trans stances and other right-wing opinions, and was not embraced by conservatives. Businessman John Cox and former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer also were prominent among Republicans seeking to replace Newsom.
The result was markedly different from the last California gubernatorial recall election, in 2003. Democrat Gray Davis was recalled by voters who were upset by a rise in the gas tax and various other issues and replaced with former bodybuilder and action-film star Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger was considered a moderate Republican but did veto two marriage equality bills. After various ballot measures and court battles, marriage equality came to California for good in 2013.
The two major parties have become much more polarized since Schwarzenegger's time in office, and a Republican with even his degree of moderation has become hard to find. Democrats pulled in national heavy hitters for the campaign against the recall. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, herself a Californian, visited the state to support Newsom in recent days. Former President Barack Obama and U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders were likewise prominent in the anti-recall effort. And emphasizing Elder's extreme views and association with Trump didn't hurt.
Newsom also had the support of many California politicians, such as Assemblyman Evan Low, a gay man who used his Grindr profile to urge a vote against the recall. Organized labor played a major part as well.
The recall effort has led many political activists to say it's too easy to get a recall question on the ballot in California. It takes the petition signatures of voters equivalent to 12 percent of those who voted in the previous gubernatorial election. That may change.
Newsom, who will be up for reelection next year, struck a positive note in a speech at the state capitol after the vote was called in his favor. "An overwhelmingly no vote tonight here in the state of California. That was expressed tonight. I want to focus on what we said yes to as a state," he said. "We said yes to science. We said yes to vaccines. We said yes to ending this pandemic. We said yes to people's right to vote without fear of fake fraud or voter suppression. We said yes to women's fundamental constitutional right to decide for herself what she does with her body and her fate and future. We said yes to diversity. We said yes to inclusion. We said yes to pluralism. We said yes to all those things that we hold dear as Californians and, I would argue, as Americans. Economic justice, social justice, racial justice, environmental justice. Our values, where California's made so much progress. All of those things were on the ballot this evening."
Rick Chavez Zbur, executive director of LGBTQ+ rights group Equality California, released a statement celebrating Newsom's win: "Last night, President Biden delivered a message to California. He told us that the eyes of the nation — and indeed the world — were upon us. Let tonight's results be a clear response: Trumpism has no place in our politics, in California, in our world. Tonight, we have defeated the anti-LGBTQ+, anti-abortion, anti-immigrant, anti-science and anti-worker Republican Recall. We have affirmed our California values and our support for Gavin Newsom, the most pro-equality governor in California history, and his tireless efforts to build a California for all.
"LGBTQ+ Californians — 12 percent of registered voters in the Golden State — and our pro-equality allies played a decisive role in this resounding victory. We stood with Governor Newsom because he has always stood with us — no matter the personal or political consequences. He has signed groundbreaking legislation to support the health and well-being of transgender Californians; expanded access to lifesaving HIV prevention medications; enacted new gun safety measures and police reforms; created more housing for people experiencing homelessness than any governor in history — and put a stop to California’s racist, anti-LGBTQ+ death penalty. He is working every day against difficult odds to keep our families safe, protect families from eviction and provide billions of dollars in relief to working families and small businesses.
"To be clear, California has big challenges ahead of us. We need to beat this pandemic, rebuild our economy, safeguard reproductive freedom, solve our homelessness crisis, save our planet from climate change and create a world that is healthy, just and fully equal for all LGBTQ+ people. Governor Newsom is up for the task, and so are we. Let's get back to work."