Progressive superstar Sen. Bernie Sanders is taking aim at the effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom of California as “a bold-faced Republican power grab” in a new TV commercial and digital ad supporting the embattled Democratic governor.
Sanders, longtime Vermont senator and runner-up in the 2016 and 2020 Democratic presidential nomination races, is the latest high profile leader on the left to lend Newsom a helping hand.
The new spot is running statewide in California with just two weeks to go until California’s Sept. 14 recall election, with the latest public opinion polls suggesting that those likely to cast ballots in the contest are divided on whether to recall Newsom.
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State election officials two weeks ago began mailing ballots to California’s 22 million registered voters, as the Republican replacement candidates on the ballot stepped up their attacks on the Democratic governor and Newsom kicked into high gear his efforts to encourage supporters to cast ballots.
Newsom and his allies acknowledge that they need a strong turnout to counter Republican voters motivated to cast ballots in hopes of ousting the governor.
The latest public opinion polls indicate those likely to vote in the recall contest are divided on ousting Newsom. The surveys also point to how crucial turnout will be in a state where registered Democrats greatly outnumber registered Republicans. One of the recent surveys, a UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies/Los Angeles Times poll conducted late last month, indicated that Republicans appear to be more motivated to cast ballots in the recall contest. Although Republicans only account for roughly a quarter of all registered voters in California, the poll suggested they made up a third of those most likely to vote in the recall election.
Voters are being asked two questions on the Newsom recall ballots. The first question is whether the governor should be removed from office. If more than 50% support removing Newsom, the second question offers a list of candidates running to replace the governor. If the governor is recalled, the candidate who wins the most votes on the second question – regardless of whether it’s a majority or just a small plurality – would succeed Newsom in steering California.
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Sanders, who won last year’s Democratic presidential primary in California, speaks directly to camera in his ad, emphasizing that “at this unprecedented moment in American history, when we’re trying to address the crisis of climate change, guarantee health care for all, and pass real immigration reform, the last thing we need is to have some right-wing Republican governor in California.”
Newsom’s recall campaign team, formally known as Stop the Republican Recall, also went up on Monday with a second TV commercial explaining to voters how to fill out the ballots they’ve received in the mail.
“Here’s what you need to know about the Sept. 14 recall,” says the narrator in the spot. “Voting yes elects an anti-vaccine Trump Republican. Voting no keeps Gavin Newsom fighting the pandemic based on science, compassion and common sense. And if you don’t vote, we could have an anti-vax Republican Governor of California.”
Sanders becomes the second leading progressive to star in a commercial taking aim at the recall and supporting Newsom. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, another 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, appeared in a similar spot in July.
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Newsom’s vastly out raised the GOP replacement candidates – and dramatically outspent them to run ads, according to AdImpact, a leading national ad tracking firm/
“With two weeks until the California Gubernatorial recall, Governor Newsom maintains a spending advantage of $19.2M to $6.9M over his Republican adversaries from 8/1-9/14,” AdImpact’s Ben Taber told Fox News. “However, it remains to be seen if this will be enough to overcome a Democratic base that remains comparatively unengaged as his chief rivals cut into his spending advantage.”
Both of the new ads indirectly take aim at conservative talk radio host Larry Elder, who jumped into the race just six weeks ago. Most of the latest surveys indicate that Elder’s the front-runner among the 46 gubernatorial replacement candidates on the ballot.
The governor and his political team for months have framed the recall drive against him as an effort by the far right, Trump supporters, national Republicans and conservative media to oust him. So it’s no surprise they’ve been blasting Elder in recent weeks, sending out press releases, fundraising emails and social media posts highlighting Elder’s opposition to having any minimum wage and his downplaying of climate change and the nation’s issues with racial inequity.
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Newsom said earlier this month that it’s “important to focus on Larry” because he argued that Elder’s “even more extreme than Trump in many respects.”
Elder returned fire at the governor in an interview on Fox News, stressing, “I think he’s in serious trouble and he knows it.”
Some Democrats worried
The controversial radio talk show host isn’t the only one who thinks Newsom may soon lose his job.
“You just wonder if the governor and his team sounded the alarm soon enough,” a California Democratic strategist who asked to remain anonymous to speak more freely told Fox News.
“The governor and his team have made a very big bet to not say anything positive about Newsom in this campaign and focus only on turnout,” the strategist noted. “The guidance on question two was to leave it blank means that if he gets recalled, a very small number of right wing extremists will pick the next governor, which will be Larry Elder.”
Newsom won election as governor in 2018 in the very blue state of California by 24 points over Republican businessman John Cox, who’s one of the 46 replacement candidates on the ballot. And now-President Biden carried the state by a whopping 29 points last November.
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“There’s so many Democrats here that there’s a world where Newsom wins by double digits and they look like geniuses. But there’s another world where this was pretty massive miscalculation,” the strategist warned. “They certainly should have been doing it at least a month ago… all of the energy’s been on the yes on the recall side.”
And the strategist noted that “I run in very Democratic circles with very Democratic friends and most of them didn’t even know that there was an election coming, that there was a recall on the ballot, or what they were supposed to do.”
How the recall started
The recall push was launched in June of last year over claims the governor mishandled the state’s response to the pandemic. The effort was fueled by the state’s COVID restrictions on businesses and houses of worship, school shutdowns and even opposition to the state’s high taxes. But the effort surged in the autumn after Newsom’s dinner at an uber-exclusive restaurant, which – at best – skirted rules imposed by the governor to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Republicans see the recall election as their best chance to topple a politician who has never lost an election during his years as San Francisco mayor, California lieutenant governor and now governor – and their first chance to win a statewide contest since the 2006 gubernatorial reelection victory by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was a moderate Republican.
Three years earlier, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis became the second governor in U.S. history to be successfully recalled and he was succeeded by Schwarzenegger, who won the recall election. Schwarzenegger captured nearly 50% of the vote on the second question, even though he was one of 135 candidates listed on the ballot.
Elder faces push back
Elder’s the front runner this time around among the replacement contenders, but he’s come under attack this month from some of his Republican rivals for past controversial comments about women and allegations from his ex-fiancée. Former two-term San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Caitlyn Jenner, the 1976 Olympic gold-medal-winning decathlete turned transgender rights activist and nationally known TV personality, called on Elder to drop out of the race.
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State election officials reported early Tuesday that 3.8 million ballots had already been returned and accepted, meaning that roughly 17% of active registered voters in California had returned a ballot. Ballots need to be postmarked by Election Day on Sept 14 – or dropped in a secure ballot box by 8pm PT that day – to count.