The Slatest

Weirdly, a Vaccine-Skeptical Radio Host Was Not Voted the Next Governor of California

Elder face masks and signs at a party. The guy lost.
Supporters of gubernatorial recall candidate Larry Elder gather at an election night event on Tuesday in Costa Mesa, California. Mario Tama/Getty Images

On Tuesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom held onto his job after California voters resoundingly rejected a recall effort that the Democrat successfully billed as a Republican plot in one of the bluest states in the country. With about 60 percent of the vote counted, “no” to the recall was leading 67 percent to 32 percent with 5.5 million votes to 2.6 million, which was enough for the Associated Press and CNN to call the effort as having failed.

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Newsom received heavy support from Latino voters, who made up 25 percent of the electorate, according to early exit polling from CNN. The “no” response was also backed heavily by white voters with college degrees, according to the same exit polls.

The race attracted national attention despite Democrats’ heavy advantage in the state after midsummer polls showed the recall question polling about even with the anti-recall question, with President Joe Biden campaigning for Newsom on Monday in Long Beach. Republicans had a critical advantage if the recall were to succeed due to the state’s bizarre rules and the Democratic strategy of not running a mainstream potential replacement candidate.

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Indeed, Republican front-runner and conservative talk radio host Larry Elder led the second ballot question—on who, in the event of a recall, should replace Newsom as governor—with more than 40 percent of the vote. It didn’t matter. Since voters definitively rejected the question of whether to initiate the recall in the first place, Newsom remains in office.

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The governor appeared to easily carry the state that has voted for Democrats by at least 20 points in the last four presidential elections. In his campaign’s final days, Newsom focused his campaign heavily on his response to the COVID-19 pandemic and Elder’s opposition to mask and vaccine mandates. Deep in the midst of the delta wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, California, the largest state in the country, is currently the sixth-lowest state for COVID cases per capita. Newsom has credited his approach of targeted lockdowns and mask mandates, while the state has also been aggressive with vaccine mandates for state employees and public health workers .

Newsom used his speech responding to the recall as a declaration of victory for his pandemic strategy and a repudiation of Trumpism. “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 for her fate and future, we said yes to diversity, we said yes to inclusion, we said yes to pluralism,” Newsom declared.

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All of that may have sounded great in blue California, but it was clear which issue ultimately won the day. According to CNN exit polling, COVID-19 was the top issue for one-third of California, making it the biggest concern for California voters. According to the same polls, about 45 percent of California voters found Newsom’s pandemic policies to be “about right” while 6 in 10 voters described vaccines as “more of a public health responsibility than it is a personal choice.” In other words: California is not a state looking to ditch its strategy for fighting COVID-19 in favor of a candidate who doesn’t appear to even understand it.

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