Thursday, September 16, 2021

California Recall Results Suggest Democratic Election Strategy for Mid-Terms

With 71% of the California vote in, the "No" vote to recall Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom is running ahead of the "Yes" vote by 28%.  That margin may increase as the remaining votes to be counted are mail-in ballots which are expected to be heavily Democratic.  

The day before the election, I had planned to write an article predicting the "No" vote would win by 20%.  My feeling was that Newsom had seized control of the campaign and that prediction reflected that.  Still most polls weren't predicting a 20% margin so I'd be going out on a limb based on a hunch.  Never got around to writing the article.  Turns out my "hunch" about a bigger than expected margin was too conservative. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA

There was a time when Governor Newsom stood a real chance of losing the recall. His popularity was in the toilet as he had angered voters by going out to a dinner party at a fancy restaurant, ignoring the strict Covid-19 protocols he was demanding other Californians follow.  The story led to a resurgence of interest in the recall petition circulating at the time.  That renewed interest in recall was aided by a judge's ruling which gave Newsom's opponents more time to gather signatures due to the pandemic.

The recall works like this. There are two ballots.  The first is whether to recall the Governor.  That is a "Yes" or "No" question.  The second ballot is who will replace the Governor if the "Yes" vote is a majority.  If the "No" vote prevails on the first question on the ballot, the second is irrelevant.

Newsom had tried to nationalize the recall by making it about former President Trump who had lost California badly and is deeply unpopular there.  Newsom's strategy was not working though because the Republicans in the race were moderates, such as the former two term mayor of San Diego, Kevin Faulconer, or were conservatives who were not well-known.  

Then long-time radio host Larry Elder entered the race.

Elder is well-known among Republicans.  He had long ago carved out some very conservative views.  Then when Donald Trump ran for President, Elder became an enthusiastic champion of the reality show star.   With Elder in the race, Newsome was able to put a face on his claim that California would be taken over by Trumpism if he was removed from office.   The Governor's efforts were helped by the fact that Elder over the years, like many radio hosts, had made a number of incendiary comments that didn't play well outside his right-wing audience.

Even though the all-important first ballot was whether voters should keep Newsom in office, the Governor was able to make the election a one-on-one contest with Elder.  And while Elder did consolidate much of the Republican support, he was thoroughly trounced when compared to Newsom.

One would think Elder's complete annihilation would discourage him from running again.  But in the era of Trump, running to win an election is not as important as running to promote oneself.  In the run-off, Elder succeeded in raising his profile considerably, thus opening him up for more opportunities to enrich himself inside and outside of politics.  In the Trump World, that's a win.

The real loser last Tuesday was the California Republican Party which may be stuck with a highly unpopular gubernatorial nominee who will drag down other GOP candidates on the ballot in 2022.

For Democrats, the recall election taught them a lesson.  To have any chance of holding their own in a mid-term election which is likely to favor the Republicans, Democrats need to nationalize the election.  They need to make the election not about Joe Biden, but about Donald J. Trump.  To do that, Democrats need Trumpy, Elder-like candidates nominated.  Fortunately for them, it appears the Republican Party is going to cooperate.

OOP's shorttakes:

  • Republicans in the Indiana General Assembly introduced their proposed redistricting maps this week.  Not surprisingly, CD 5 was shored up by removing heavily Democratic Marion County from the district.  The district probably will get tight again, but for at least the next three cycles incumbent Victoria Spartz should be assured of re-election.
  • I don't have the numbers in CD 1, but it doesn't appear that the Republicans changed it enough to make it a Republican-leaning district.  I am surprised.  Democratic Congressman Frank Mrvan only won the district with 56.6% of the vote in 2020.  
  • Flipping CD 1 would have required weakening nearby districts, including CD 2 currently represented by Rep. Jackie Walorski.  CD 2 has actually gotten more Republican since the 2010 redistricting, culminating in Walorski securing 61.5% of the districts vote in 2020.  Still, Walorski's close elections under the 2010 map, including 2012 when she won with just 49% of the vote, has not been forgotten.  No doubt she was lobbying behind the scenes not to weaken the Republican vote in her district to try to pick up another seat.  
  • Still the Republican mapmakers could have moved some GOP voters from neighboring CD 4 into CD 1 to give it more of a GOP flavor.  In that district, Republican candidates are regularly winning by around 30 points.  One thing that is often overlooked about redistricting is that incumbency protection is often a higher priority than the majority party trying to add seats.  

1 comment:

leon said...

California Republicans are on life support anyhow and for reasons well known to those who study these matters. Seems like Marion county is also in the scuppers for some of the same reasons. I'm pretty sure that Howcome? is not coming to the aid of Marion County Republicans and the use of redistricting to offend the R base does remind of the Stupid Party. Omertà is being practiced by the r's on that matter as they should expect any number of lawsuits and no point then, in telling the truth and providing ammo to those offended by Republicans.