Today’s recall election in California will either be a decisive game-changer or, at best for the Democrats, a temporary reprieve before the storm of 2022.
On the face of it the Democrats are firmly in charge of America: they control the Presidency, the House and the Senate. But that disguises just how precarious their control really is. Democrat control of Congress is by razor-thin margins, in the Senate especially. The mid-term elections, due next year, will make or break the Biden administration. It’s already dramatically weakened by a failing economy and the humiliating failure of Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal. A hostile Congress would nobble the remainder of Biden’s term.
But the mid-terms are not due for over a year. Instead, what’s really haunting the Democrats is California. Traditionally a Democrat power-house, governor Gavin Newsom is facing an historic recall election. A Newsom loss and a Republican replacement would be a devastating strategic setback for the Democrats. In the words of former president Barack Obama, “Everything is on the line”.
Who runs California, economically, socially, and politically the most powerful US state, always matters but an upset on Tuesday would be devastating for Democrats in Washington, where the ruling party controls the congress with only a one-seat majority.
A majority that will be critically endangered, should Republican frontrunner Larry Elder win the recall election. When senators retire, the governor of their state chooses their replacement. California senator Dianne Feinstein is 88 years old. Elder has vowed to replace her with a Republican, should she retire. The Biden administration would be crippled.
If Elder wins, that almost certainly won’t happen. Instead, Feinstein will be pressured to stay in place until she drops off her perch, like Ruth Bader Ginsberg in the Supreme Court.
Yet Feinstein clinging on to the bitter end, while a senescent president mumbles and shuffles his way around the White House, will only highlight the desperation of the Democrats.
Newsom is staring down the barrel of being only the second US governor to be recalled, after Democrat Gray Davis was ousted in favour of Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2003.
Newsom’s own movie star looks have failed to inoculate the first-term governor against a small-business community enraged by the nation’s longest lockdown, gig workers, and Republicans who’ve smelt vulnerability.
“If you’re going to tax people at a high rate, destroy small businesses, put hardworking blue-collar people on the street, and then brag about your $80bn budget surplus, I find that offensive,” says Ram Duriseti, a 51-year-old emergency room physician living in the Bay Area.
Newsom’s critics have furnished an exhaustive list of reasons to dump him, from high taxation, arbitrary rule, poor forest fire management, homelessness and unworkable industrial relations, persuasive enough to have attracted 2.1 million signatures, 600,000 more than needed under state law to trigger a recall vote.
Newsom also enraged Californians with his patrician sense of entitlement: exempting himself from the 10% pay cut he forced on public servants, and dining out with friends (including public health bosses and Big Pharma execs) at a swanky Napa Valley restaurant, while the state was under the harshest lockdowns in the country.
Another factor against Newsom is a perceived war on gig workers. A bill passed in January reclassified millions of independent contractors as employees. As a result, many of them now have no job at all. California’s unemployment rate is over two percent higher than the national average.
After weeks of steadily narrowing, the polls have drifted in Newsom’s favour: 56 per cent of voters oppose the recall motion, and 42 per cent are in favour, according to the latest average of credible statewide polls published by Nate Silver. But it’s not so simple where voting isn’t compulsory.
About half of likely voters say they haven’t decided how to vote yet or wouldn’t vote for any of the replacement candidates on the recall ballot, according to a recent survey by the Public Policy Institute of California.
On the face of it, California is solidly Democrat. But behind the massive blue wall of Los Angeles is a sea of rural red and light-blue counties.
Under California’s recall rules, a new governor could be elected with a tiny number of votes […] A simple majority in favour of a yes vote would see Newsom replaced by the candidate who obtained the most votes, even if that were a piddling figure in a state of 40 million people.The Australian
A last-minute bomb has been thrown at Newsom by actor and sexual harassment campaigner Rose McGowan, who accuses the governor’s wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, of trying to suppress sexual assault claims about disgraced mogul Harvey Weinstein. McGowan levelled the claims at a press conference with Republican frontrunner Larry Elder. McGowan declared that she is “no longer a Democrat” and Elder is “the better man”.
It’s an appropriate bit of Hollywood dramatics in Californian politics, but whether it’s enough to carry an historic recall remains to be seen.
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