California voters overwhelmingly chose to keep Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom in office in a recall election on Tuesday.
Newsom was spared after a projection by the Associated Press showed that a majority of voters opted against recalling him.
With 61 percent of the estimated vote in, early returns showed that 5.3 million voters supported keeping Newsom in office, while 2.5 million Californians voted in favor of his removal.
In remarks Tuesday evening at the California Democratic Party headquarters in Sacramento, Newsom said it “appears we are enjoying an overwhelmingly ‘no’ vote here tonight.”
— Major Garrett (@MajorCBS) September 15, 2021
“But no is not the only thing that was expressed tonight,” Newsom said. “I want to focus on what we said yes to as a state. We said yes to science, we said yes to vaccines, we said yes to ending this pandemic, we said yes to people’s right to vote without fear of fake fraud or voter suppression.”
“I am humbled and grateful to the millions, and millions of Californians who exercised their fundamental right to vote, and express themselves so overwhelmingly by rejecting the division,” Newsom went on to add.
The September 14 recall election was triggered after a petition to remove Newsom received more than 1.6 million verified signatures — a sign of Californians’ frustration with the first-term governor over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the state’s homelessness and drug epidemics and exorbitant cost of living.
Californians had been voting early for weeks; nearly 40 percent of registered voters had already cast ballots before Tuesday’s election, with Democratic ballots outnumbering Republican ballots two to one. Yet Republicans were expected to overwhelmingly vote in-person, rather than by mail.
Polling had suggested Newsom was unlikely to be recalled. The governor’s recall would have been a deep upset for Democrats in a state where the party controls the state legislature and every statewide office.
Dozens of Republican candidates including former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner, former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer and Assemblyman Kevin Kiley had stepped forward to challenge Newsom, though conservative radio host Larry Elder was the favorite among GOP voters.
Still, though recall organizers claimed to have support across the political spectrum, no prominent Democrats came forward to endorse Elder aside from former Democratic senate leader Gloria Romero.
Democrats worked to paint Elder as a fringe right-wing candidate; President Biden called him a “clone” of former president Donald Trump.
While stumping for Newsom in Long Beach, Calif., on Monday night, Biden told the crowd they could not let Elder win, saying, “There is too much at stake.”
Vice President Kamala Harris and former President Barack Obama also called on voters to reject the recall effort.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) had called the election a chance to change course in the state where Democrats hold a nearly 2-to-1 advantage among registered voters.
Despite Newsom’s early efforts to avoid mention of a possible recall as the petition to remove him from office amassed more and more signatures, he eventually launched an aggressive campaign in March.
The main committee opposing the recall raised nearly $70 million through the end of August, and the campaign had 25,000 volunteers on the streets last weekend.
Newsom’s advisers were confident he would not be recalled, with strategist Sean Clegg saying on Monday, “There’s no scenario where we lose tomorrow.”
Officials have 30 days to complete their official canvass and must give vote-by-mail ballots postmarked on Election Day one week to arrive, according to the New York Times. The certified count is not expected to come until October 22 as each of California’s 58 counties work to process ballots.