The Morning Dispatch: Newsom Leads as Recall Voting Comes to a Close

His leading GOP opponent has already made claims of voter fraud.

Happy Tuesday! Unfortunately, we’re not going to spend much time on Met Gala fashion in today’s newsletter. For that, you’ll have to wait for Scott Lincicome’s Wednesday Capitolism.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Apple is urging all its customers to update the software on their  devices after cybersecurity researchers at Citizen Lab discovered a loophole in Apple’s operating system—present since at least March—that allowed advanced spyware called Pegasus from Israel’s NSO Group to silently infiltrate machines and turn on a user’s camera and microphone or record their screen.

  • The Treasury Department said Monday that U.S. outlays through the first 11 months of the fiscal year grew 4 percent year-over-year to a record $6.3 trillion in 2021. The U.S. budget deficit, however, ultimately narrowed from $3 trillion last year to $2.7 trillion this year as federal revenue increased 18 percent year-over-year due to increased tax collection.

  • The Pentagon on Monday defended its August 29 drone strike in Kabul as necessary to “prevent an imminent attack on the airport,” contradicting a recent New York Times report that claimed the driver targeted in the strike—which killed 10, including seven children—was a longtime worker for a U.S. aid group transporting canisters of water, not an ISIS member with explosives.

  • A study of the more than 50,000 COVID-19 deaths in England between January 2 and July 2 confirmed a dramatically lower mortality rate among fully vaccinated individuals. Only 256 of 51,281 COVID-19 deaths over that period occurred in fully vaccinated individuals (two weeks after second dose), and the median age for breakthrough COVID-19 deaths was 84.

  • The New York Times reported Monday the Federal Election Commission has dismissed the Republican National Committee’s complaint that Twitter illegally benefited the Biden campaign last year by blocking the distribution of the New York Post’s Hunter Biden laptop story on its platform for about a day. The FEC reportedly determined that Twitter’s actions were undertaken for a “valid commercial reason,” not a political purpose.

  • The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries said in its monthly report on Monday that global demand for oil is expected to outpace pre-pandemic levels in 2022—particularly in markets where COVID-19 vaccinations are readily available.

  • U.S. Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger confirmed Monday that fencing around the Capitol will be reinstalled this week ahead of a planned Saturday rally to demand “justice” for January 6 rioters. Domestic extremism researcher Jared Holt, however, wrote recently that “suggestions that organized extremist groups are mobilizing at any major scale around this event are unsupported by current analysis.”

  • President Joe Biden plans to nominate Alvaro Bedoya—a Georgetown University law professor and longtime privacy rights advocate—to a seat on the Federal Trade Commission, Axios reported Monday.

Newsom Holds Comfortable Lead as Recall Election Comes to a Close

Californians who haven’t already cast their ballots by mail will flock to the polls today for the last day of voting in the recall election of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom—the fourth gubernatorial recall in American history and the Golden State’s second since 2003, when Democratic Gov. Gray Davis was ousted and replaced by Hollywood star Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But 2021 isn’t 2003. For starters, according to data from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), the share of California voters who identify as Republicans has declined dramatically over the past two decades, falling from 35.2 percent in 2003 to 24.1 percent in 2021. Part of this trend can be explained by an 8 point increase in the share of registered voters who now identify as independent—23.3 percent—compared to 2003, when that figure stood at 15.3 percent. The share of registered voters who currently identify as Democrats (46.5 percent) hasn’t changed much (44.4 percent).

Another distinguishing factor in this race is that Newsom has much higher approval ratings than Davis did shortly before he was recalled. Exit polls from 2003 show that roughly 7 out of 10 Californians supported the effort to recall Davis ahead of Election Day. By contrast, Newsom’s approval rating stands at around 53 percent, PPIC reports, and the percentage of voters who want to remove Newsom has hovered in the low 40s since the beginning of September.

The Republican-led recall effort began before some of Newsom’s pandemic missteps—including his infamous unmasked dinner with lobbyists at the French Laundry last fall—but lockdown fatigue and charges of hypocrisy provided organizers the momentum needed to secure the 1.5 million signatures necessary to trigger a recall election back in February. Voters have also expressed frustration with California’s homelessness rates, preparedness (or lack thereof) for wildfires, and cost of living.

When we last updated you on the race in mid-August, public polling showed Newsom more or less within the margin of error. That’s no longer the case: FiveThirtyEight’s polling average for the race now shows “keep” ahead of “remove” 57 percent to 42 percent. (It is worth noting, however, that an off-year recall election  being held in September will likely fall victim to larger-than-usual polling error.)

“I think the early polling scare really sent shockwaves to Democrats throughout the state,” California-based Republican strategist Rob Stutzman, who previously served as deputy chief of staff to Schwarzenegger, told The Dispatch. Newsom and his Democratic allies really kicked into gear over the past month, spending $36 million on advertising and field operations in August alone—more than three times as much as his five most formidable Republican challengers combined.

A whopping 46 candidates joined the race to unseat Newsom, but conservative talk-radio host Larry Elder has emerged as the clear frontrunner, nearly tripling the public polling support of his two closest competitors—Democratic YouTube star Kevin Paffrath and former Republican San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer—put together. Failed 2018 gubernatorial candidate John Cox and Olympic legend Caitlyn Jenner are also in the running, but have barely registered in the polls.

Elder’s rising to the top of the field—coupled with the lack of a formidable Democratic challenger—allowed Newsom and his allies to reframe the campaign. “Once Larry Elder entered the race and catapulted to the top, the race was no longer an abstract question about Gavin Newsom—‘yes or no’—but Gavin Newsom vs. Larry Elder,” Stutzman said. “It’s made all the difference.”

Elder is running as a fairly mainstream Republican within today’s party—against vaccine mandates and other pandemic restrictions, for in-person schooling, cracking down on crime, and reducing regulations on housing construction—but his campaign has been plagued by scandal. Faulconer and Jenner called on Elder to quit the race last month after his ex-fiancé went public with allegations (which Elder denies) that he brandished a gun at her while high on marijuana in 2015. More recently, opponents of the talk-show host have circulated a July podcast episode in which Elder—who is black—says there is a case to be made for providing reparations to the descendants of slave owners because their “property” was taken from them after the Civil War.

The campaign has featured some incredibly ugly moments. Last Wednesday, a white woman wearing a gorilla mask attempted to throw an egg at Elder as he was campaigning in Venice, and police are searching for someone who fired a pellet gun at Elder’s entourage that same day. “The intolerant left will not stop us,” Elder responded on Twitter.

But Elder seems to have accepted that the intolerant left will stop him, as his messaging in recent days—while still optimistic at times—has begun to include explanations for why he might lose. “How are we going to stop the Democrats’ cheating?” Elder asked a crowd of rally attendees last week in Santa Barbara. “The reason the lawsuits did not work in the 2020 election—we know what happened there—is because the lawsuits were filed too late.”

Perhaps to get ahead of the curve, Elder and his allies launched a website this week to allow voters to report their experiences of election fraud. The only problem? The website essentially conceded Elder lost—because of “fraud”—before a single vote was publicly tabulated, let alone a winner called. “Statistical analyses used to detect fraud in elections held in 3rd-world nations (such as Russia, Venezuela, and Iran) have detected fraud in California resulting in Governor Gavin Newsom being reinstated as governor,” the site read as of Monday night.

Former president Donald Trump, who continues to insist against all available evidence that he lost last November because the presidential election was “rigged,” is predictably using the California recall to further undermine confidence in elections. “Does anybody really believe the California Recall Election isn’t rigged?” Trump said in a statement released Monday. “Millions and millions of Mail-In Ballots will make this just another giant Election Scam, no different, but less blatant, than the 2020 Presidential Election Scam!” Trump offered no evidence to support his claim.

Newsom, for his part, has been more than happy to have Trump insert himself into the race—and not just because his preemptive comments about fraud could dampen Republican turnout as they did in January’s Georgia Senate elections. As Dave Weigel, Colby Itkowitz, and Gregory Schneider wrote for the Washington Post last week, Democrats believe Trump “still has power to mobilize liberal voters and keep suburban moderates in the Democratic tent.” Ads supporting the Democratic governor routinely describe Elder as a “Trump Republican,” and President Biden, rallying for Newsom in California yesterday, described Elder as the “closest thing to a Trump clone” that he’s seen.

“You either keep Gavin Newsom as your governor or you’ll get Donald Trump,” Biden said. Former President Barack Obama, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have come to Newsom’s aid in recent days with a similar set of messages.

David Turner, spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association, argues that what Republicans need to do to motivate their base is completely at odds with what they need to do to win independents and center-left Democrats. “They have to walk this tightrope of appeasing the folks who are their most ardent supporters while also trying to win over the persuadable voters in the middle,” Turner told The Dispatch. 

All registered voters in California were mailed an absentee ballot last month with two simple questions: Do you want to recall Governor Newsom? If the governor is recalled, who do you want to replace him? If a simple majority of voters answer yes on question one, the candidate who receives the plurality of support on question two will ascend to the governor’s mansion.

According to California’s Political Data Intelligence, more than 8.7 million absentee ballots had been returned as of Monday—52 percent from registered Democrats, 26 percent from registered Republicans. Just like Election Day last November, however, Republicans are expected to make up a disproportionate share of today’s in-person vote. But also like last November, California is not expected to finish counting ballots on the day of the election. We should know who will be leading the most populous state in the union later this week.

Worth Your Time

  • In the Washington Examiner, Tim Carney makes a conservative case not for vaccinemandates, but for getting vaccinated. “If dad destroys his leg while attempting a reckless dirt-bike trick and ends up on the couch for six weeks, that’s an abrogation of his duty to his family,” Carney writes. “He can’t help around the house, he can’t be as much of a father or husband as he could be. The accident would also harm his employer, to whom he also owes a duty. His community will also be harmed by the loss of his services. Getting vaccinated against COVID reduces by 90% the risk of hospitalization from COVID. That is a leading cause of hospitalization these days, and hospitals risk being too crowded to serve those with other maladies. So, that’s one more risk you are imposing on others in your community if you don’t get vaccinated — you are making it more likely that they won’t get timely care for an auto accident or a severe, deadly case of the flu. … This leaves the burden on the vaccine-refuser. You are taking on a risk of hospitalization (and, to a lesser degree, a risk of death). Can you look at everyone to whom you owe a duty — your wife or husband, your kids, your parents, your employer and community — and explain why it’s worth that risk?”

  • American Enterprise Institute fellow (and erstwhile Remnant guest) Oriana Skylar Mastro had a piece in the New York Times yesterday exploring what the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan means for Taiwan. “The U.S. departure from Afghanistan will more likely give pause to Chinese war planners—not push them to use force against Taiwan,” she argues. “On the surface, it may seem as if the U.S. withdrawal would be a good thing for China’s prospects at what it calls ‘armed reunification.’ … However, the American departure from Afghanistan creates security concerns in China’s own backyard that could distract it from its competition with the United States.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • For a thorough investigation into the legality of President Biden’s proposed OSHA vaccine/testing mandate, check out yesterday’s Advisory Opinions. Sarah and David break it all down before turning their attention to the latest on abortion jurisprudence, Justice Stephen Breyer’s recent media tour, and more.

  • This week marks the one-year anniversary of the Abraham Accords. Cliff Smith looks at how all signatories, not just Israel, have benefited, and he suggests the deal offers a model for Palestinians.

  • Ryan Bourne and Oliver Wiseman note how the Biden administration’s travel ban, which limits travelers from many nations with low cases and high vaccination rates while allowing those from COVID hot spots, no longer makes sense at a time when vaccines are readily available.

Let Us Know

Removing partisan considerations from the equation, what are your thoughts on recall elections more broadly? Are they a useful check on elected officials’ excess, or an undemocratic and cynical ploy?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Charlotte Lawson (@lawsonreports), Audrey Fahlberg (@AudreyFahlberg), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), Harvest Prude (@HarvestPrude), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).