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California Gov. Gavin Newsom ably fended off a recall attempt from Republicans on Tuesday, changing the stakes of the contest from a referendum on his own performance and into a partisan fight over Trumpism and the coronavirus.
Five takeaways from Newsom’s victory:
COVID PRECAUTIONS CAN HELP DEMOCRATS
Republicans intended the recall to be a referendum on Democrats’ rule of California, and the homelessness, crime, high housing costs and ener- gy problems that accompanied it. But in a bit of political maneuvering — and with the help of the spreading delta variant — Newsom turned it into a referendum on Republicans’ opposition to precautions against the coronavirus.
GOP REVIVES BASELESS FRAUD CLAIMS
Republicans’ groundless claims of election fraud aren’t going away anytime soon.
Even while ballots were still being cast, Republicans were claiming the election was “rigged.” It was a baseless allegation — and a strange one considering Republicans performed relatively well under the same California election system in November, gaining four congressional seats.
But former President Donald Trump’s false election fraud rhetoric quickly has burrowed into Republican politics. Still, some Californians worry about what could happen in their state.
“This is going to be the second election in a row where there are going to be aggressive, emotional charges of voter fraud,” said Mindy Romero, director of the Center for Inclusive Democracy at the University of Southern California. “I cannot see a positive out of it.” NO LIGHT AT END OF THE TUNNEL FOR CALIFORNIA GOP
The recall offered California Republicans their only plausible shot at statewide office in one of the bluest states in the nation. The recall is a way to dodge a head-to-head match that would send voters to their regular partisan corners.
That’s what happened in 2003 when Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger won a recall against Democratic Gov. Gray Davis. Schwarzenegger’s moderate politics never would have won a GOP primary but were appealing enough to voters fed up with the incumbent. NEWSOM STEPS BACK FROM THE BRINK
There’s no question that Newsom won the recall elec- tion. But he might not have emerged unscathed.
When he was elected in 2018, Newsom was riding an anti-Trump wave in a state that saw itself as the heart of the “resistance” to Republican power in Washington. The former San Francisco mayor was mulled as a possible future presidential candidate.
Three years later, his state is reeling from a brutal drought and accompanying wildfires. Heat waves trigger rolling blackouts. The recall demonstrated that Republicans are unlikely to beat Newsom in a partisan race. And the governor can boast of a lopsided win on Tuesday, though the precise margin likely won’t be known for weeks when all the ballots are counted.
MUDDLED SIGNS FOR THE MIDTERMS
The recall is the first significant election of Joe Biden’s presidency and served as something of a political stress test for both parties ahead of next year’s midterms.
Democrats showed they could turn out their voters even as their party held the White House — a traditionally tough feat that is why the party in power usually loses seats in Congress in midterm elections.
The rejection of the recall shows that a candidate who is too aligned with Trump remains toxic in some areas, both Democratic ones and also current political battle- grounds like formerly Republican Orange County.