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California governor survives recall to remain in office

By LIA ZHU in San Francisco | | Updated: 2021-09-16 02:10
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California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks after the polls close on the recall election, at the California Democratic Party headquarters in Sacramento, California, US, Sept 14, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

Californians have decided to keep their governor in office in a rare recall election.

Gavin Newsom, Democratic governor of the most populous US state with the nation's largest economy, declared victory after the race was called Tuesday night.

With about 70 percent of the projected vote counted by Wednesday morning, 63.9 percent of the voters voted against recalling him, while 36.1 percent voted for it.

"It appears that we are enjoying an overwhelmingly 'no' vote tonight here in the state of California, but 'no' is not the only thing that was expressed tonight," Newsom said Tuesday night. "We said 'yes' to science, we said 'yes' to vaccines, we said 'yes' to ending this pandemic," he said.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic was not referenced in the original recall petition, which started by a retired sheriff's sergeant in Yolo County in June 2020, it became the focus of Newsom's opponents wearied by his handling of the pandemic.

Newsom's front-running challenger, Republican talk show host Larry Elder conceded defeat in an address to supporters Tuesday night. "We recognize that we lost the battle, but we are certainly going to win the war," he said.

Elder and other Republicans repeatedly criticized Newsom of pandemic-related business and school shutdowns as well as mask and vaccine rules. Elder promised during campaign that his first moves as governor would be to repeal Newsom's pandemic policies.

Newsom argued that his vaccine and mask requirements were the reasons why the state has one of the nation's highest vaccination rates and one of its lowest rates of new virus cases.

The NBC News exit polls show that 63 percent of voters in the recall said getting the COVID-19 vaccine is a public health responsibility, versus 34 percent who said it's a personal choice.

And on masks, 70 percent of voters said they supported California requiring children to wear masks in school, and they voted against the recall by an 80 percent-to-20 percent margin, according to the exit poll.

Newsom was inaugurated in 2019. His term ends on Jan 2, 2023. He has faced at least five recall attempts. The latest recall petition originally references the death penalty, homelessness, high taxes, housing costs and other issues that conservatives have long criticized about California.

Initially, the recall effort had difficulty gaining traction, but signatures began pouring in after Newsom was caught on camera at a birthday party in November without a mask at The French Laundry in the Napa Valley wine country, one of the most expensive restaurants in the US.

At that time, California was at the height of the pandemic with restrictions in place. The state urged its residents to wear masks and avoid gatherings.

Newsom apologized for attending the dinner, saying he "made a bad mistake" and acknowledged that "the spirit of what I'm preaching all the time was contradicted".

The opponents of Newsom got 1.7 million signatures to qualify the recall for the ballot, above the 1.5 million needed. The special election cost the state $276 million. The recall candidates spent $58.6 million on television, radio and digital advertising, according to AdImpact.

In fact, every governor in California has faced a recall attempt, but only two, including Newsom, have qualified for the ballot. The previous recall in 2003 resulted in actor Arnold Schwarzenegger becoming governor.

It's rare for such recalls to qualify for the ballot. Prior to Newsom, only four recalls of governors qualified for the ballot in the US, and only two governors lost their recall elections in the US history.

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