Live Updates: Californians Vote to Keep Newsom as Governor

In an anticipated and costly recall election, about two-thirds of voters said that Democrat Gavin Newsom should remain in office.,

Current time in California: Sept. 15, 3:49 a.m.

LiveUpdated Sept. 15, 2021, 6:42 a.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 6:42 a.m. ET

In a costly recall election dominated by the politics of the coronavirus response, about two-thirds of voters said that the Democrat Gavin Newsom should remain in office.

ImageVoters at the Torrance Culture Arts Center in Torrance, Calif., on Tuesday.
Voters at the Torrance Culture Arts Center in Torrance, Calif., on Tuesday.Credit…Ryan Young for The New York Times

The coronavirus pandemic helped propel the recall attempt of Gov. Gavin Newsom to the ballot in California, and on Tuesday, his handling of the pandemic was an overriding issue as about two-thirds of voters decided he should stay in office.

Across the nation’s most populous state, voters surveyed by New York Times reporters outside polling places cited Mr. Newsom’s pandemic restrictions and support for vaccine mandates as key factors in whether they voted to oust or keep him. The recall served as a preview of next year’s midterm elections nationally, with voters sharply divided along partisan lines over issues such as masks, lockdowns and mandatory vaccinations.

In San Francisco, Jose Orbeta said he voted to keep Mr. Newsom, a Democrat, in office, calling the recall a “waste of time.”

“It’s a power grab by the G.O.P.,” said Mr. Orbeta, a 50-year-old employee of the Department of Public Health. He said Mr. Newsom had done a “decent job” leading California through the pandemic despite his “lapse of judgment” in dining at the French Laundry during the height of the outbreak.

In Yorba Linda, a conservative suburb in Orange County, Jose Zenon, a Republican who runs an event-planning business with his wife, said he was infuriated by Mr. Newsom’s pandemic restrictions and support for vaccine mandates. He pointed to examples of his friends leaving for other states, such as Arizona, Nevada and Texas.

“That train out of here is really long, and we might be getting on it, too,” Mr. Zenon said, just after voting for Larry Elder, the Republican talk-radio host who led the field of challengers hoping to take Mr. Newsom’s job.

“The rules this governor made put a lot of businesses in an impossible position — we were without income for 10 months. Here we live in a condo, we want to have a home, but it’s just impossible. Something’s got to change.”

Some voters in an increasingly politically active constituency of Chinese Americans supported the recall. They blamed Mr. Newsom for a rise in marijuana dispensaries, homeless people and crime that they said are ruining the cluster of cities east of Los Angeles where Chinese immigrants, many of them now American citizens, have thrived for years.

“We really don’t like the situation in California,” said Fenglan Liu, 53, who immigrated to the United States from mainland China 21 years ago and helped mobilize volunteers in the San Gabriel Valley.

“No place is safe; crime is terrible. Newsom needs to go. This is failed management, not the pandemic.”

In the wealthy Orange County suburb of Ladera Ranch, Candice Carvalho, 42, cast her ballot against the recall because, she said, “I thought it was important to show that Orange County isn’t just Republicans.”

She expressed frustration that the recall was taking so much attention at a critical moment in the pandemic.

“It was a waste of money and completely unnecessary,” she said. “And I’m a little shocked we’re focusing on this now.” While she acknowledged knowing little about the specifics of state election laws, she said it seemed “slightly too easy” to get the recall attempt on the ballot.

Gov. Gavin Newsom visited California Democratic Party headquarters in Sacramento after Tuesday’s recall effort failed.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

SACRAMENTO — A Republican-led bid to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom of California ended in a decisive defeat on Tuesday, as Democrats in the nation’s most populous state closed ranks against a small grass-roots movement that accelerated with the spread of Covid-19.

Larry Elder, a conservative talk radio host, led 46 challengers hoping to become the next governor, but Californians strongly affirmed their support for Mr. Newsom in a special election that cost the state an estimated $276 million.

The Associated Press called the race for Mr. Newsom, who had won in a 62 percent landslide in 2018, less than an hour after the polls closed on Tuesday. About 65 percent of the nearly nine million ballots counted by 1 a.m. Pacific time said the governor should stay in office.

“It appears that we are enjoying an overwhelmingly ‘no’ vote tonight here in the state of California, but ‘no’ is not the only thing that was expressed tonight,” Mr. Newsom told reporters late Tuesday.

“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 and voter suppression. We said yes to women’s fundamental constitutional right to decide for herself what she does with her body, her faith, her future. We said yes to diversity.”

The result reflected the state’s recent progress against the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed more than 67,000 lives in California. The state has one of the nation’s highest vaccination rates and one of its lowest rates of new virus cases — which the governor tirelessly argued to voters were the results of his vaccine and mask requirements.

Though polls showed that the recall was consistently opposed by some 60 percent of Californians, surveys over the summer suggested that likely voters were unenthusiastic about Mr. Newsom. As the election deadline approached, however, his base mobilized.

Electoral math did the rest: Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one in California, and pandemic voting rules encouraged high turnout, allowing ballots to be mailed to each of the state’s 22 million registered, active voters with prepaid postage. More than 40 percent of those Californians voted early.

Since early this year, when it became clear that the recall would have the money and time to qualify for the ballot, Mr. Newsom campaigned relentlessly. Noting that Mr. Elder had built a career bashing liberal causes, the governor painted him as a Trump clone who would foist far-right policies on a state that has been a bastion of liberal thinking.

“Vote no and go,” the governor told voters, suggesting that they stick to voting against recalling him and not even dignify the second question on the ballot, which asked who should replace Mr. Newsom if the recall succeeds.

Millions of voters chose not to answer the second question, with Mr. Elder receiving nearly half of the vote from those who did. As of early Wednesday morning Kevin Paffrath, a Democrat, had received about 10 percent of the vote, and Kevin Faulconer, a Republican and former mayor of San Diego, had garnered about 9 percent.

Mike Netter and Orrin Heatlie, proponents of the recall, led a meeting in Folsom in February.Credit…Max Whittaker for The New York Times

Although Gov. Gavin Newsom’s critics started their recall attempt because they opposed his stances on the death penalty and immigration, it was the politicization of the pandemic that propelled it onto the ballot as Californians became impatient with shutdowns of businesses and classrooms.

Initiated by a retired Republican sheriff’s sergeant in Northern California, Orrin Heatlie, the recall was one of six conservative-led petitions that began circulating within months of Mr. Newsom’s inauguration.

Initially, Mr. Heatlie’s petition had difficulty gaining traction. But it gathered steam as the pandemic swept California and Mr. Newsom struggled to contain it. Californians who at first were supportive of the governor’s health orders wearied of shutdowns in businesses and classrooms, and public dissatisfaction boiled over in November when Mr. Newsom was spotted mask-free at the French Laundry, an exclusive wine country restaurant, after urging the public to avoid gatherings.

A court order extending the deadline for signature gathering because of pandemic shutdowns allowed recall proponents to capitalize on the outrage and unease.

Recall attempts are common in California, where direct democracy has long been part of the political culture. But only one other attempt against a governor has qualified for the ballot — in 2003, when Californians recalled Gov. Gray Davis on the heels of the Sept. 11 attacks, the dot-com bust and rolling electricity blackouts. They elected Arnold Schwarzenegger to replace Mr. Davis as governor, substituting a centrist Republican for a centrist Democrat.

A supporter of Larry Elder stands inside an empty ballroom before the start of an Election Night watch party in Orange County.Credit…Mark Abramson for The New York Times

COSTA MESA, Calif. — About 10 minutes before the polls closed, supporters of Larry Elder, the leading Republican candidate, began streaming into a hotel ballroom in Orange County, sipping wine and whiskey sours. The band played “The Girl From Ipanema” and the stage was ringed by red-white-and-blue bunting, as attendees waited for Mr. Elder.

Just after polls closed at 8 p.m., Fred Whitaker, the chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, warned the crowd — inaccurately, it turned out — that it was likely to be a long night, because early results were likely to favor the Democrats. “Enjoy the food,” he said. “Enjoy the drink.”

And then they prayed.

Pastor Jack Hibbs of Calvary Chapel in Chino Hills thanked God for creating California. “We pray, we ask of you, to grant victory,” he said.

Later, after The Associated Press called the race for Gov. Gavin Newsom, Mr. Elder spoke to the crowd and conceded.

“Let’s be gracious in defeat,” he said, adding, “We may have lost the battle, but we are going to win the war.”

The packed ballroom cheered.

Throughout the campaign, Mr. Elder made baseless claims about election fraud, echoing former President Donald J. Trump. He had previously suggested he would challenge the results if he lost and Mr. Newsom kept his job. But on Tuesday night, he did not say whether he planned to contest the results.

At the event, which the candidate billed as a “victory party,” some of Mr. Elder’s supporters said they would accept defeat if it arrived. “Of course,” said Cheryl Rosenberg, an educator in the Inland Empire. “I’m not going to call cheating.”

Ms. Rosenberg, 57, raced to the Costa Mesa hotel straight from work with her friend and colleague, Susan Sawyer, both wearing American-flag-themed attire. Ms. Sawyer also said she would also accept the election’s outcome if it didn’t favor Mr. Elder.

But Ms. Sawyer, 58, said that in any case, she had already decided to leave California because of its cost of living. A lifelong Californian, she said she wished she could stay. But she and her husband are close to retirement, and believe they can’t afford to spend their golden years in the state. So they recently sold their house for $720,000 and will move to Arizona.

“We’re just going to take the money and run,” she said.

The two friends were ecstatic when the recall effort qualified for the ballot, both believing that Mr. Newsom has been “a horrible governor.” They decided to support Mr. Elder, a conservative radio host, because he was not a career politician and had what they said were common-sense solutions to problems such as wildfires and the homelessness crisis.

“He wants a California that we want back,” Ms. Rosenberg said.

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