With the 2021 California gubernatorial recall election behind us, the question at the forefront of every California recall proponent’s mind is this: How on earth did the recall challenge fail?
The answer is three-fold and should not surprise us: Gov. Gavin Newsom’s strong political base, absence of formidable Democrat challengers, and MAGA fearmongering. Allegations of voter fraud don’t seem to play into what turned out to be redemption rather than embarrassment for the California governor.
The recall effort, which quickly gathered steam as California Gov. Gavin Newsom committed blunder after blunder in the handling of the COVID pandemic, held high promise after the esteemed governor was caught defying his own mask mandate at a famous high-dollar, 3 Michelin-star restaurant to celebrate his friend Jason Kinney’s birthday (a friend who happens to be a controversial Sacramento lobbyist that’s keeping a low profile these days).
Newsom’s chaotic approach to the pandemic, including mask and vaccination mandates and ''stay at home'' orders, pushed Californians emotionally to the proverbial edge while it destroyed local businesses and an already bruised economy thanks to California’s excessive tax levies. The cumulative effect of all of these issues, coupled with Newsom’s elitist air, saw rank-and-file Californians succeeding in a petition drive to recall the governor.
A full one-quarter of those who signed the petition identified as Democrats.
Ergo, how did a potent recall campaign where one-fourth of those signing on were from the sitting governor’s party, end up in defeat? The answer rests in machine politics and a cut-hroat political strategy.
While virtually the rest of the nation sees Newsom as a radical left-wing California Democrat, in blue state California he is a seasoned and savvy politician with a solid bench of sycophant constituents, benefactors, strategists and advisers. Shortly after voting began, incoming election results revealed a very high voter turnout in the San Francisco Bay area.
This was good news for Newsom because his political foundation is centered in the Bay Area.
Being San Francisco’s mayor from 2004 until taking an elevated station as California’s lieutenant governor in 2011 imbued Gov. Newsom with a loyal base of constituents. (Newsom remained in the latter post until he became governor in 2019.)
The high voter turnout translated to Newsom’s far-left base being intact. Without a high voter turnout in the Bay Area, the chances of Newsom surviving the recall were diminished.
More important than that was the fact Newsom’s political apparatus applied political muscle to box out any viable competition from the left side of the aisle, leaving the governor as the only choice for anyone who devoutly voted Democrat. Without a viable alternative that would allow Democrat voters to remain faithful to the far-left agenda, Newsom could be the only choice going forward.
Chris Lehman, a policy adviser with NextGen Policy, a political and advocacy shop bankrolled by billionaire environmental activist and hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, said the election was effectively over when the candidate filing deadline passed and no realistic Democrat candidate filed to replace Newsom.
This strategy, courtesy of the powerhouse liberal political campaign shop, Bearstar Strategies, proved to be the most important piece of the triangulated strategy to thwart a recall. Newsom could have survived a moderate-to-low base voter turnout in the Bay Area, but if a viable alternative candidate from the left would have been on the ballot, the probability that Newsom would have survived was dismal.
With the first two legs of the strategic triangle firmly in place, all that was ''left'' to do was to fear-monger Californians into believing that anyone running to replace Newsom in the event he was removed would be a rabid anti-vaccine psycho, an iteration of Donald Trump, and a person who would implement a MAGA agenda in California.
With conservative radio host Larry Elder establishing himself as the most likely of all the other recall candidates — and with no viable liberal alternative, Newsom’s team spun the election away from being a referendum on his elitist COVID malfeasance and general failure of leadership as governor into a one-on-one, toe-to-toe battle saturated in the question of whether Californians wanted to risk having a Trump-aligned governor.
The answer became very clear as the election results started consolidating in earnest: Californians broke for retaining Newsom.
With an estimated 10.6 million people voting — a full 83.4 percent of the 2018 voter turnout in that state’s gubernatorial election, 63.4 percent of Californians voted to retain Mr. Newsom as governor.
The two closest Democrat challengers on the ballot to succeed Newsom were Kevin Paffrath and Brandon M. Ross, who gleaned 9.9 percent and 5.5 percent of the vote respectively. Elder received 2.8 million votes, or 47.4 percent of the vote in the race to replace Newsom.
There were a plethora of reports about voting irregularities including voting machine malfunctions, voters reportedly being told by poll workers they had already voted, the last-minute closing and re-location of polling places, and the issuance of Sharpie permanent markers which resulted in spoiled ballots.
In addition to other complaints leveled by Newsom’s opposition, many conservative-leaning Californians found it problematic that California’s secretary of state allowed voters to download mail-in ballots from home even as they sent mail-in ballots to every registered voter, whether they requested one or not.
But again, these facts, observations and complaints are all moot. And while the recall advocates will argue about and analyze the many reasons for their initiative’s defeat, it really all does come down to machine politics and a cutthroat political strategy.
Now, the new question may be a bit forward looking. In surviving — in winning — a recall election where tactics held the day, is Gov. Newsom audacious enough to set his sights on the White House? As they say at The French Laundry, ''Pass the foie gras.''
Yuri Vanetik is a private investor, lawyer and political strategist based in California. Read Yuri Vanetik's Reports — More Here.
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