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Newsom’s anti-Trump recall strategy offers warning for mid-term 2022

SAN LEANDRO, Calif .– California is bathed in its foresight. “The future happens here first,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said, calling his state “America’s coming attraction”.

However, in categorically rejecting efforts to recall him from office, Mr Newsom made it clear that California’s cherished role in presaging tomorrow’s politics was not as important as another bigger factor in Tuesday’s results. : today’s tribal politics.

The first-term Democratic governor will remain in office because, in a deeply liberal state, he effectively nationalized the recall effort as a Republican plot, making a flamethrower radio host the face of opposition to Trump to polarize the electorate on red. and blue lines.

Mr Newsom has been successful not because of what makes California different, but because of how it’s like everywhere else: he dominated the heavily populated Democratic towns of California, the key to victory in a state where his party is five million more voters than Republicans.

“Gavin might have been on a high wire, but he was wearing a big blue safety harness,” said Mike Murphy, a Republican quarterback based in California.

The recall offers Democrats in Washington at least one lesson ahead of next year’s midterm elections: The party’s pre-existing blue-and-purple-states strategy of portraying Republicans as Trump-loving extremists may still prove to be effective with the former president removed from office. at least when the strategy is executed with relentless discipline, an avalanche of money and an opponent who plays typing.

“Either keep Gavin Newsom as governor or you will have Donald Trump,” President Biden said at a rally on the eve of the election in Long Beach, making it clear what Mr. Newsom and his allies have been suggesting for weeks at a time. About the republican front. runner, longtime radio host Larry Elder.

By the time Mr. Biden arrived in California, Mr. Newsom was in a good position. Yet in the days leading up to the recall, he warned Democrats of the right-wing threat they would face in elections across the country next November.

“Get involved, wake up, this thing is happening,” he said in an interview, calling Mr. Elder a “national spokesperson for an extreme agenda.”

California, which has not elected a Republican governor since George W. Bush’s administration, is hardly a point of contention for next year’s midterms. Still, for Republicans considering lower approval ratings for Mr. Biden and growing hopeful about their prospects for 2022, the recall failure is less of a worrying omen than a cautious recall. on what happens when they present candidates who are easy prey for the opposition.

The last time Democrats controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress, in 2010, Republicans made big gains but failed to reclaim the Senate because they nominated a handful of candidates so flawed they ‘they managed to lose in one of the best midterm elections for the GOP in modern history.

That is, the primaries are important – and if Republicans are to reclaim the Senate next year, party officials say, they will do so by elevating candidates who don’t come with the research records. bulging opposition from a 27-year veteran of right-wing radio..

“Larry Elder saved their lives,” Rob Stutzman, a Republican strategist in Sacramento, said of Democrats. “Until this race had a general electoral context, there wasn’t much enthusiasm for life in California. But when you have the almost perfect caricature of a MAGA candidate, well, you can kick your constituents out. “

Gray Davis, the former Democratic governor of California who was recalled in 2003, put it more concisely: “It was a gift from God,” he said of Mr. Elder. “He ran his entire campaign as if the electorate were conservative Republicans.”

Hungry for good news after a bleak month, Democrats will nonetheless happily enjoy Mr Newsom’s apparent triumph. After all, Mr. Biden himself knows too well from his experience as Vice President in 2010 – when his party lost the Massachusetts Senate seat vacated by the death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy – that even the The safest races cannot be taken for granted in special elections.

In addition, Mr. Newsom’s success politically justifies the president’s decision to issue a mandate on companies to demand the Covid-19 vaccine. The governor has campaigned aggressively on his own vaccine demands and lambasted Mr. Elder for swearing to cancel them.

In fact, before Mr Biden announced the policy on Thursday, Mr Newsom’s lieutenants believed they were leading the way for other Democrats, including the president. “We are doing what the White House needs to do, which is to become more campaigning on vaccines,” Sean Clegg, one of the governor’s top advisers, said in an interview last week.

Historically, much of California’s political leanings have been on the right.

From the first election of Ronald Reagan as governor, marking the backlash of the 1960s, to the property tax revolt of the 1970s, foreshadowing Reagan’s national success in the 1980s, the state was somewhat of a box office. Conservative Petri.

Even in recent years, as California turned left, it was possible to discern the Republican future in Governor Pete Wilson’s hard line on illegal immigration in the 1990s and in the potent cocktail of celebrity, de populism and platitudes of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 2000s.

Earlier this summer, it emerged that California once again may herald national trends. Burdened by rising crime, homelessness and Covid fatigue, Mr Newsom has been seen in polls as in danger of being recalled.

His challenge, however, was not a tidal wave of opposition, but democratic apathy.

That started to change when Mr Newsom spent his opponents and Republican supporters on the four-to-one recall on television over the summer. Voter sentiment shifted even more sharply from replacing him once Mr. Elder emerged, turning the contest from a referendum on Mr. Newsom into a more traditional Republican versus Democrat election.

Every Democratic campaign poster and flyer, and even the ballot itself mailed to registered California voters, called the vote a “Republican recall,” sporting a scarlet R on the exercise.

“We defined this as a Republican reminder, that’s what it is,” boasted Rusty Hicks, the Democratic President of California, shortly before Mr Newsom and Vice President Kamala Harris went upstairs. on stage at a rally on September 8 near Oakland.

A rare convergence of interests between Democrats and Republicans ultimately favored Mr. Newsom: The only people more thrilled to raise the profile of Mr. Elder, a black conservative who likes to pierce liberal piety, were the paid members of the staff. of the governor.

Mr. Elder has appeared on Fox News in prime time 52 times this year, according to liberal media watchdog Media Matters. No other Republican candidate has run more than eight times.

While this exhibit helped Mr. Elder become the most popular alternative, it served to undermine the cause for Mr. Newsom’s impeachment, ensuring that the contest would look more like a general election than the last, and to this day only, to a success in California. reminder of the governor.

In 2003, Mr. Schwarzenegger was better known for his Hollywood credits than for his politics. He also hammered home a distinctly local issue, the California auto tax, which kept the race focused on state rather than federal policies. And the incumbent, Mr Davis, was far more unpopular than Mr Newsom is.

California was then also a different state in a way that illustrates how politically polarized it has become. In 2000, Mr. Bush lost California by about 11 percentage points, while retaining Republican redoubts like Orange and San Diego counties. Last year, Mr. Trump was routed in the state by nearly 30 points and decisively lost the same two counties.

“There is no safe landing place today for moderates because, even if you are angry with Gavin, the alternative is Ron DeSantis,” Murphy said, referring to Gov. Trumpian of Florida.

Indeed, what thrilled the Conservatives so much about Mr Elder – his sharp right-wing rhetoric – is what made him a perfect foil for Mr Newsom.

Mr Newsom turned his stemmed speech into a recitation of chapters and verses of Mr Elder’s greatest hits: comments he made denigrating women, downplaying climate change and questioning the need minimum wage. Joined by a parade of prominent National Democrats who arrived in California equipped with anti-senior talking points, the governor spent more time warning of a Republican takeover than defending his record.

He also invoked the specter of the Red States and their leaders, despising Republicans ‘handling of Covid, voting restrictions and, in the final days of the campaign, Texas’ restrictive new abortion law.

As minority parliamentary leader Kevin McCarthy, California’s most prominent Republican, kept his distance from the recall, Mr. Newsom was regularly joined by Democratic members of the state’s Congressional delegation, who linked the recall to the recall. Mr. Trump’s refusal to admit defeat and the Jan.6 Assault on Capitol Hill.

“Another kind of insurgency in California,” as Rep. Karen Bass said at a rally in Los Angeles.

Mr. Elder, for his part, readily portrayed himself as the provocateur he is, crushing more moderate GOP hopes like former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. He vowed to end the vaccination warrants for state employees on his swearing-in day, which prompted chants of “Larry, Larry!” conservative crowds but alienated the state’s pro-vaccine majority.

Mr Newsom’s polls showed him to lead 69-28 among Californians who said they had been vaccinated, his advisers said, a significant advantage in a state where nearly seven in ten adults have been vaccinated.

The possibility that Elder-style figures could win primaries in more competitive states alarms many establishment-aligned Republicans as they assess the 2022 landscape.

Candidates too closely tied to Mr. Trump, or carrying personal baggage, or both, could undermine the party’s prospects in states like Georgia, Arizona, Missouri and Pennsylvania, which will prove key to determining control of the Senate.

Likewise, Republicans could struggle in the battlefield governor’s races in Ohio, Georgia and Arizona if far-right candidates win in the primaries thanks to Mr. Trump’s blessing.

In a few states, however, the Trump-era party brand is as toxic as in California.

“It’s not about Schwarzenegger, it’s not even Scott Walker,” Newsom said, referring to the former Republican governor of Wisconsin who pushed back a recall. “It’s about arming this office for an extreme national agenda.”

It is, said the governor, “Trump’s party, even here in California.”