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In the closing days leading up to next Tuesday’s California recall election, Gov. Gavin Newsom and his allies appear to be going all in focusing on the coronavirus pandemic as the embattled Democratic governor fights to keep his job steering the nation’s most populous state.
Newsom’s been showcasing his efforts to combat the coronavirus, the worst global pandemic in a century, touting California’s high COVID vaccination rate and warning of what may happen if he’s replaced by a conservative Republican in the governor’s office. By doing so, the governor is shining a spotlight on the very issue that sparked the recall effort against him over a year ago, when accusations that Newsom mishandled the Golden State’s response to the coronavirus triggered the push to oust him.
“MILESTONE: More than 80% of eligible Californians have at least one dose of the #COVID19 vaccine & we continue to lead the nation with 48M shots in arms. Now, we’re in a pandemic of the unvaccinated as they fill up hospitals & ICUs. Vaccines are how we end this pandemic,” the governor’s office tweeted last week, using their official Twitter account.
And at a news conference outside a health clinic in Oakland the same day, Newsom compared California’s COVID rates to much higher ones in large states with conservative governors, such as Texas and Florida.
Newsom also took aim at Larry Elder, the conservative talk radio host and the polling and fundraising front runner among the 46 gubernatorial replacement candidates on the recall ballot, who has said he’d halt the state’s vaccine and mask requirements if elected.
“His model is Texas and Florida, and Mississippi,” Newsom charged. “We have among the lowest positivity rates in America. They have the highest positivity rates in America. We have one of the lowest case rates in America. They’re among the highest.”
California has vaccine verification or testing requirements for state workers, school staff, and healthcare workers. The state has also implemented universal masking for K-12 students at public schools.
“I know that Gavin Newsom has mandated that every state worker who has not been vaccinated be tested once a week and wear a face mask at work. I’m going to repeal that before I have my first cup of coffee,” Elder pledged on the campaign trail this past weekend.
Many of the other leading replacement candidates have joined Elder in saying that while they don’t oppose vaccines, they would roll back Newsom’s statewide vaccine mandates for those working for the state, in health care, and at schools.
One of the other top contenders, businessman and 2018 GOP gubernatorial nominee John Cox, recently pointed to Florida’s more relaxed restrictions as a guide for he would do as California governor.
But Newsom argues that such moves would set California back in its battle to combat the coronavirus and recently emphasized that “there is no more consequential decision to the health and safety of the people, the state of California, than voting ‘no’ on this Republican recall.”
Voters are being asked two questions on the Newsom recall ballots. The first question is whether the governor should be removed from office. If more than 50% support removing Newsom, the second question offers a list of candidates running to replace the governor. If the governor is recalled, the candidate who wins the most votes on the second question – regardless of whether it’s a majority or just a small plurality – would succeed Newsom.
A statewide TV commercial by Newsom’s political team which explains to voters how to fill out the ballots they’ve received in the mail claims that “voting yes elects an anti-vaccine Trump Republican. Voting no keeps Gavin Newsom fighting the pandemic based on science, compassion and common sense.”
Top national Democratic surrogates who’ve joined Newsom on the Golden State campaign trail in recent days have also focused on the governor’s COVID efforts.
“The pandemic, we are turning the corner because, in part, of his good work in getting the vaccine out there,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, told the crowd at a rally in Santa Ana, California on Sunday.
Recent polling suggests Newsom’s game plan of focusing on COVID may prove successful.
Six in ten Californians supported vaccination mandates for employees, healthcare workers, and customers in indoor businesses, according to a CBS News poll conducted last month. And roughly 60% questioned in the survey said Newsom was doing a somewhat or very good job handling the pandemic.
And a Public Policy Institute of California poll conducted last week indicated that COVID was the most pressing issue facing the state, followed by jobs and the economy, and homelessness. And more than three in four surveyed said the state was doing a good or excellent job distributing vaccines.
Newsom and his allies acknowledge that they need a strong turnout to counter Republican voters motivated to cast ballots in hopes of ousting the governor – and the governor and his top advisers see COVID as a key issue to energize their supporters to fill out and hand in their ballots.
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