LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — President Joe Biden put Democrats’ approach to the coronavirus pandemic on the line Monday, casting the California recall that could remove Gov. Gavin Newsom from office as an opportunity for voters to show the nation that “leadership matters, science matters.”
“The eyes of the nation are on California because the decision you’re going to make isn't just going to have a huge impact on California, it’s going to reverberate around the nation, and quite frankly, not a joke, around the world,” the Democratic president said at a rally in the Southern California city of Long Beach.
The closing pitch from Newsom and his most prominent Democratic ally came a night before voting concludes in the race that could remove the first-term governor from office. He is just the fourth governor in U.S. history and the second in California to face a recall. Californians removed Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 and replaced him with Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Biden's message that “Gavin will be a governor who will help us finish the job" underscored the importance to Democrats of keeping the governor's office in the nation's most populous state and chief laboratory for progressive policies. The results of the race ending Tuesday will send signals about how voters are poised to react to Democrats who adopted aggressive pandemic policies in next year's midterm elections, when control of Congress and half the nation's governorships are at stake.
Just a half hour south, Republican front-runner and talk radio host Larry Elder was urging his supporters not to let up on getting out the vote among fellow Republicans, friends and neighbors in the race's final 24 hours.
“Make sure you have your friends vote, vote, vote, and try and get 10 more friends to vote and hit every call, make every call, knock on every door, we’re gonna win this thing if we turn out the vote," Elder said from a hotel ballroom in the Orange County city of Costa Mesa.
Amateur Republican political organizers upset with Newsom's approach to crime, homelessness and immigration launched the recall drive in early 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic got it to the ballot. Newsom was the first governor in the country to issue a statewide stay-at-home order that shuttered many businesses for months and kept kids out of classrooms.
“There's no front that I can think of where this man has done a good job — not on schools, not on homelessness, not in the way he shut down this state," Elder said at an earlier Monday campaign stop.
Nearly 8 million Californians already have cast mail-in ballots. Republicans tend to be more skeptical of mail voting, particularly as former President Donald Trump has suggested it leads to fraud, so recall organizers are hoping Newsom's critics show up in huge numbers for in-person Election Day voting.
Voters are being asked two questions: Should Newsom be recalled, yes or no, and who should replace him? The results of the second question only matter if a majority wants to remove Newsom. Recent polls from the Public Policy Institute of California and others showed Newsom defeating the recall.
Lead recall organizer Orrin Heatlie said the fact that Newsom is bringing in Biden to campaign with him shows Democrats are concerned. He says neither Biden nor Trump should be weighing in on the contest because it's about California issues.
“This is a matter between the people of California and their governor and really has nothing to do with the federal government; and the president, with all due respect, should mind his own business," Heatlie said.
Meanwhile, he said Trump's statement Monday calling the election rigged was “more damaging than the actual fraud itself."
“When people aren't confident, if they don't have faith that their vote is going to count, then they're not going to waste their time to cast their ballot," Heatlie said.
There has been no confirmed evidence of widespread fraud.
Biden toured wildfire damage in Northern California before heading south to rally with Newsom. Vice President Kamala Harris, a California native, campaigned with Newsom last week and former President Barack Obama recorded a television ad urging no on the recall.
“Gavin Newsom can bring in all the Washington folks that he wants, but this election is a referendum on the governor’s failures," said former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, another Republican candidate to replace Newsom.
Businessman John Cox, a Republican who lost badly to Newsom in 2018, campaigned outside the French Laundry, the upscale Napa Valley restaurant where Newsom was caught attending a birthday party last fall in violation of his administration's coronavirus rules.
State Assemblyman Kevin Kiley campaigned in Southern California. No prominent elected Democrats are running. YouTube creator Kevin Paffrath is the most well-known of nine Democrats on the ballot.