What The Recall Election Results Tell Us About California

By now, you’ve probably heard that Gov. Gavin Newsom handily defeated a Republican-led effort to recall him, with the vote count this morning showing that 65 percent of Californians opposed removing him from office.

Newsom’s lead was so wide when the early numbers were released last night that many news outlets declared the race over within an hour of the polls closing.

“We are enjoying an overwhelmingly ‘no’ vote tonight here in the state of California,” the governor, looking tired, told reporters in Sacramento around 9 p.m.

There are many takeaways from this election, from the need to reform California’s wonky recall process to the Democrats’ success rallying voters by evoking Donald Trump. But what’s most stunning to me is what’s been revealed about the Republican Party’s dwindling power in California.

This state was once a Republican stronghold that reliably went red in presidential elections. We produced Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, who we also elected governor twice.

Yet the share of Californians identifying as Republican has plummeted from 35 percent in 2003 to 24 percent now. (Meanwhile, the fraction of registered Democrats has increased slightly to 46.5 percent from just shy of 45 percent, while those with no party affiliation has risen from 16 percent to 23 percent, with a tendency to lean toward the Democrats.)

The reason I’m choosing numbers from 2003 is because that year provided a road map for the Republicans who had been hoping to recall Newsom. In 2003, Californians voted Gray Davis, a Democrat, out of office and replaced him with Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican.

But in 2021, a similar feat was always going to be a much steeper climb.

Democrats now outnumber Republicans by nearly two to one.

“When you have such a big disadvantage, when your party is only 24 percent, well you have a problem,” said Joshua Spivak, a senior fellow at Wagner College’s Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform, who recently wrote a book on recall elections. “They just don’t have the voters.”

Plus, over the past 18 years, party lines have hardened. In 2003, Democrats were more willing to criticize the governor from their party, while Schwarzenegger had cross-aisle appeal as a moderate Republican, and also a movie star.

“Arnold was to many Dems a perfectly acceptable alternative,” said Raphael Sonenshein, the executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.

This year, however, Republicans failed to coalesce around a candidate who could appeal beyond the far right, as my colleague Jeremy W. Peters reports.

Kevin Faulconer, the centrist Republican candidate on the ballot, garnered little support throughout the campaign, though he resembles the kind of moderate Republicans who have succeeded here in the past.

Meanwhile, Larry Elder, a far right conservative radio host, quickly became the most popular candidate for recall supporters. But, as demonstrated by Tuesday’s results, Elder’s appeal with Republicans didn’t translate to Democrats, who overwhelmingly voted to keep Newsom in office.

There are no obvious answers as to what the future of the Republican Party will be in California. But Newsom is up for re-election in 2022, (yes, actually) so whatever tack the party chooses may become clear soon enough.

These cobs borrow the flavors of cacio e pepe, a traditional Italian pasta made with pecorino, Parmesan, and black pepper.

My colleagues asked readers to tell them about places that delighted or comforted them in a dark year, and pulled together 52 of those suggestions “to remind us that the world still awaits.”

On that list is Santa Rosa, a place full of resilience and majesty. Read more.

Tell us about the your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected] We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

Between the wildfires, pandemic and drought, this summer in California hasn’t been easy.

So with Sept. 22 marking the end of the season, I’m asking for you to share what has helped you make it through. Maybe it was a vacation you had postponed, a trashy TV show, a delicious meal you cooked or your nightly stroll.

Email me your favorite summer memory at [email protected] along with your name and the city where you live. If you want to include a picture, please make sure it’s oriented horizontally.

In Volcano, a town of about 100 people an hour’s drive from Sacramento, an all-volunteer theater company is rekindling joy in a dark year.

The pandemic, the fires — all of it fades away on the stage, the actress Brenda Metzger told The Los Angeles Times.

In the Volcano Theatre Company’s production of Noel Coward’s “Hay Fever,” Metzger plays the flirty flapper Myra Arundel.

“When you’re performing, you have to stay in the moment,” Metzger told the newspaper. “When I’m onstage, I’m Myra. And the thing Myra cares about the most is getting laid.”

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Participate in a democracy (4 letters).

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