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California Recall Analyzed by USC and Media Experts

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CPF Co-Directors Bob Shrum and Mike Murphy were joined by a panel of USC and media experts to assess the campaign to recall California Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday, September 1. (Source: CPF)
CPF Co-Directors Bob Shrum and Mike Murphy were joined by a panel of USC and media experts to assess the campaign to recall California Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday, September 1. (Source: CPF)

Gavin Newsom was elected California's 40th governor in 2019 with a chance to run for a second term in the November 2022 election. Hoping to stop Newsom's first term in its tracks, a statewide effort collected enough signatures to force a special September 2021 election to recall the sitting governor. USC Center for the Political Future (CPF) Co-Directors Bob Shrum and Mike Murphy sat down with Jennifer Cryer, Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Relations at USC Dornsife; Carla Marinucci, Senior Writer for POLITICO California Playbook; Seema Mehta, political writer with the Los Angeles Times; and Roger Salazar, political strategist and President of Alza Strategies to discuss why the recall is happening, how it works, and some possible outcomes of the recall.

Watch the video for "To Recall or Not? Assessing the Campaign to Recall Gavin Newsom."

The conversation kicked off with an exploration into why the recall was occurring in the first place. Marinucci placed this recall within the context of Newsom’s tenure: there have been half a dozen other failed attempts to recall Newsom, but this one took off because of the COVID restrictions in place and the embarrassing photographs of Newsom seemingly violating his own COVID rules at the upscale French Laundry restaurant. Mehta added that the organizers for this recall were also aided by a court decision to allow four extra months to obtain signatures, making this attempt successful at getting on the ballot.

The panel then compared this recall election to the successful recall of then Governor Gray Davis in 2003. Murphy brought up voter registration numbers- since 2003, there have been more than 3 million new Democrats in California compared to only 19,000 new Republicans since then. Salazar, who worked for the Davis campaign, said that as bad as the polling is now for Newsom, he isn’t in as bad of a position as Davis was, when 75% of California wanted him out.

Still, Salazar conceded that there were warning signs for Newsom. Looking at ballot returns, he said, there is massive underperformance among both Latino voters and young voters, two key Democratic constituencies. Cryer also raised the fact that the Newsom campaign’s focus is on base voters with ads with progressive firebrands like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. She contends the election wouldn’t be as close if there was more outreach to voters who declined to state their party affiliation. And, Mehta mentioned anecdotally several liberals who were frustrated by Newsom’s tenure as Governor, saying that not every Democratic ballot could be expected to be No on the recall.

Despite those caveats, only Salazar would make a prediction on the outcome (56-58% No on the Recall). Marinucci agreed that it would be an uphill battle for the Yes on Recall campaign simply because of Democratic voter registration numbers.

If you want to check your voter registration or where to vote, you can find information on the VoteSC website at www.voteusc.com. The next CPF event is “Redistricting: Science, Art, and Skullduggery” on Tuesday, September 28.

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