What The Recall Election Results Tell Us About California

Republicans’ influence in the state continues to weaken.,


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Gov. Gavin Newsom appeared at the California Democratic Party headquarters in Sacramento after the polls closed on Tuesday.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

By now, you’ve probably heard that Gov. Gavin Newsom handily defeated a Republican-led effort to recall him, with the vote count this morning showing that 65 percent of Californians opposed removing him from office.

Newsom’s lead was so wide when the early numbers were released last night that many news outlets declared the race over within an hour of the polls closing.

“We are enjoying an overwhelmingly ‘no’ vote tonight here in the state of California,” the governor, looking tired, told reporters in Sacramento around 9 p.m.

There are many takeaways from this election, from the need to reform California’s wonky recall process to the Democrats’ success rallying voters by evoking Donald Trump. But what’s most stunning to me is what’s been revealed about the Republican Party’s dwindling power in California.

This state was once a Republican stronghold that reliably went red in presidential elections. We produced Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, who we also elected governor twice.

Yet the share of Californians identifying as Republican has plummeted from 35 percent in 2003 to 24 percent now. (Meanwhile, the fraction of registered Democrats has increased slightly to 46.5 percent from just shy of 45 percent, while those with no party affiliation has risen from 16 percent to 23 percent, with a tendency to lean toward the Democrats.)

The reason I’m choosing numbers from 2003 is because that year provided a road map for the Republicans who had been hoping to recall Newsom. In 2003, Californians voted Gray Davis, a Democrat, out of office and replaced him with Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican.

But in 2021, a similar feat was always going to be a much steeper climb.

Democrats now outnumber Republicans by nearly two to one.

“When you have such a big disadvantage, when your party is only 24 percent, well you have a problem,” said Joshua Spivak, a senior fellow at Wagner College’s Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform, who recently wrote a book on recall elections. “They just don’t have the voters.”


Mona Provisor, an election worker, worked on her knitting while waiting to help voters at the Redwood Playhouse in Garberville.Credit…Alexandra Hootnick for The New York Times

Plus, over the past 18 years, party lines have hardened. In 2003, Democrats were more willing to criticize the governor from their party, while Schwarzenegger had cross-aisle appeal as a moderate Republican, and also a movie star.

“Arnold was to many Dems a perfectly acceptable alternative,” said Raphael Sonenshein, the executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.

This year, however, Republicans failed to coalesce around a candidate who could appeal beyond the far right, as my colleague Jeremy W. Peters reports.

Kevin Faulconer, the centrist Republican candidate on the ballot, garnered little support throughout the campaign, though he resembles the kind of moderate Republicans who have succeeded here in the past.

Meanwhile, Larry Elder, a far right conservative radio host, quickly became the most popular candidate for recall supporters. But, as demonstrated by Tuesday’s results, Elder’s appeal with Republicans didn’t translate to Democrats, who overwhelmingly voted to keep Newsom in office.

There are no obvious answers as to what the future of the Republican Party will be in California. But Newsom is up for re-election in 2022, (yes, actually) so whatever tack the party chooses may become clear soon enough.

For more:

See how your county voted with our election tracker.

Newsom’s victory could be a guide for Democrats in the 2022 midterms, reports The Atlantic.

Why was Newsom’s French Laundry moment such a big deal? Our California restaurant critic Tejal Rao explains.


Tournament House in Pasadena offers “supplemental” third Covid-19 shots.Credit…Robyn Beck/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The rest of the news

Booster shots: Healthy Americans, including many living in California, are seeking coronavirus booster doses, unwilling to wait for federal approval. “Those doses don’t last forever, so I felt no guilt about taking one that probably would have expired,” a woman who lives in Del Mar told The Times.

Theranos trial: A key whistle-blower testified on Tuesday in the fraud trial of the Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes.

Drinks to-go: A bill that would allow restaurants to continue serving to-go cocktails through 2026 awaits Newsom’s signature, Eater San Francisco reports.

Climate change: President Biden’s visit this week to California and other western states was a last-ditch opportunity to sell the importance of mitigating global warming.

Presidential war powers: Barbara Lee, who represents Alameda County in Congress, spent two decades building consensus to rein in war authorizations that have been stretched beyond their original intent. But the Afghanistan withdrawal has complicated the debate.


LAPD vaccine resistance: About 2,300 Los Angeles Police Department employees have indicated they may request exemptions to a vaccine mandate because of their religious beliefs, according to an investigation by NBC Los Angeles. Plus, six LAPD staffers are suing the city over its vaccine mandate, reports CBS News.

Museum of Contemporary Art: The contemporary art museum in Los Angeles announced on Tuesday that Johanna Burton will become the institution’s sole director and the first woman in that role.

Urban heat islands: San Diego officials are identifying parts of the city where temperatures tend to reach dangerously high levels to try to address the dangers of extreme heat, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

LAPD error: A new report by federal investigators finds that Los Angeles police miscalculated the amount of fireworks they placed into a containment vessel before detonating them and causing damage in a South L.A. neighborhood in June, The Los Angeles Times reports.


Ancient sequoias threatened: Wildfires in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are posing a danger to sequoia groves containing some of the oldest and biggest trees in the world.

Kern County lawsuit: Kern County sued Newsom on Monday over a ban on fracking, The Bakersfield Californian reports.


Mills College: One of just 37 women’s colleges remaining in the country, Mills College will merge with a private Boston university and become “gender inclusive,” reports The San Francisco Chronicle.

Unaffordable housing for teachers: Despite drawing some of the highest teacher salaries in the country, educators in Santa Clara County have a harder time affording homes than teachers anywhere else in the nation.

A new report from the online broker Redfin highlights a Silicon Valley housing paradox: good public schools drive up home prices, while high home prices drive out teachers. Read more from the Vallejo Times-Herald.

Stricter plastic ban: With single-use plastic bans already banned, the city of Berkeley is considering also prohibiting the use of thicker, reusable plastic grocery bags as well as the thinner plastic bags used in the produce aisle, Berkeleyside reports.

Chinook salmon: The drought and heat waves that have plagued California this year have been disastrous for the state’s Chinook salmon, which have been dying before spawning in massive quantities, reports The Washington Post.


Credit…Ryan Liebe for The New York Times

What we’re eating

These cobs borrow the flavors of cacio e pepe, a traditional Italian pasta made with pecorino, Parmesan, and black pepper.


A chardonnay vineyard near Santa Rosa, Calif.Credit…George Rose/Getty Images

Where we’re traveling

My colleagues asked readers to tell them about places that delighted or comforted them in a dark year, and pulled together 52 of those suggestions “to remind us that the world still awaits.”

On that list is Santa Rosa, a place full of resilience and majesty. Read more.

Tell us about the your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

Tell us

Between the wildfires, pandemic and drought, this summer in California hasn’t been easy.

So with Sept. 22 marking the end of the season, I’m asking for you to share what has helped you make it through. Maybe it was a vacation you had postponed, a trashy TV show, a delicious meal you cooked or your nightly stroll.

Email me your favorite summer memory at CAtoday@nytimes.com along with your name and the city where you live. If you want to include a picture, please make sure it’s oriented horizontally.

And before you go, some good news

In Volcano, a town of about 100 people an hour’s drive from Sacramento, an all-volunteer theater company is rekindling joy in a dark year.

The pandemic, the fires — all of it fades away on the stage, the actress Brenda Metzger told The Los Angeles Times.

In the Volcano Theatre Company’s production of Noel Coward’s “Hay Fever,” Metzger plays the flirty flapper Myra Arundel.

“When you’re performing, you have to stay in the moment,” Metzger told the newspaper. “When I’m onstage, I’m Myra. And the thing Myra cares about the most is getting laid.”

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Participate in a democracy (4 letters).

Steven Moity and Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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