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With recall defeated, Newsom scores well in poll against 2022 rivals

Gov. Gavin Newsom waves to supporters in Long Beach
Gov. Gavin Newsom waves to the crowd after appearing with President Biden during an antirecall campaign event at Long Beach City College on Monday.
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

After overwhelmingly rejecting an effort to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom in Tuesday’s recall election, California voters appear ready to sign him up for a second term in 2022.

Newsom would easily beat any of the four top Republicans who were in the running to replace him, including the GOP candidate who fared best, conservative talk show host Larry Elder, according to a newly released UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll cosponsored by the Los Angeles Times.

The poll found that 52% of registered voters said they would support Newsom in a head-to-head matchup with Elder, while 30% would back the Republican. The remainder said they were undecided.

Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who finished second among Republicans on Tuesday, didn’t do any better. Pitted against the governor, Faulconer was favored by 27% of registered voters compared to the 49% who supported Newsom. Nearly a quarter of those surveyed were undecided.

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Republican John Cox, whom Newsom beat handily in the 2018 gubernatorial election, and Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin) both trailed Newsom by roughly a 2-1 margin in a one-to-one matchup, the poll showed.

One of the most telling findings in the poll, which were gathered between Aug. 30 and Sept. 6, was that Elder has by far the most support among registered Republican voters, a strong indication that he would be the strongest GOP candidate in the 2022 gubernatorial election, said Mark DiCamillo, director of the poll.

In the head-to-head matchups against Newsom, Elder’s support among Republican voters outpaced all the other GOP candidates by roughly 10%, the poll found. Elder led by almost the exact same margin among those who voted for former President Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

“That still does tell the tale of where California Republicans are,” DiCamillo said. “They’re more likely to support Elder than any of the others.”

In Tuesday’s election, more than 63% of California voters opposed recalling Newsom from office while 36% favored removing him. That margin could narrow since late-arriving ballots are still being counted and the official tally will not be certified for weeks.

While visiting an elementary school classroom in Oakland on Wednesday, Newsom said he hoped the results will allow Californians of all political persuasions to come together.

“For me, coming out of this recall, I want to turn the page and express respect and a deep sense of responsibility not just to those that voted ‘no’ on this recall but those that voted ‘yes’ — they matter,” Newsom said. “I care, and I want them to know I’m going to do my best to have their backs as well.”

The divide among California Republicans over how best to move forward and make electoral gains in Sacramento and Congress in 2022 shows no signs of being remedied. That reality was evident at a post-election event Wednesday sponsored by the Sacramento Press Club, where representatives for Elder and Faulconer clashed.

Ron Nehring, former chairman of the California Republican Party and a Faulconer supporter, blamed Elder for tanking the recall effort against Newsom. Polls showed the governor was in serious jeopardy of being removed from office as late as July, before Elder become the GOP frontrunner, mostly because Republicans were energized and many Democratic and independent voters appeared indifferent.

Newsom and his political allies rallied the Democratic base, however, with an onslaught of attacks against Elder, hammering him for his opposition to abortion rights, support for offshore oil drilling and for his political allegiance to former President Trump, an immensely unpopular figure in California. Newsom also went after Elder for vowing to repeal the state’s mask and vaccination mandates in a state where both policies have strong support.

“Larry Elder entered the race when the Republican base was already active [and] managed to very successfully activate the Democratic base,” Nehring said during the virtual press club event. “He kept on saying things that just didn’t make any sense if you actually wanted to become governor.”

If Elder runs for governor in 2022 and faces off with Newsom in the November general election, it could be disastrous for Republicans, Nehring said. He said it would be a repeat of 2018, when Cox’s “dismal failure” of a campaign hurt GOP candidates in tight races down the ballot.

“People are going to look at the result of this election, where Larry Elder became the face of the of the recall side, and wonder, is that the person who I want at the top of the ticket in 2022 when we have congressional races and such that are at stake,” Nehring said.

Jeff Corless, Elder’s campaign manager, brushed aside Nehring’s attacks. Elder, he said, showed he was the only Republican candidate in the recall campaign capable of uniting the GOP in California — Elder has received more than 2.4 million votes. Among the replacement candidates on the recall ballot, Elder currently has 47% of the vote, compared to 8.6% for Faulconer, 4.4% for Cox and 3.2% for Kiley.

“Obviously his message resonated with millions of voters,” Corless said. “He has a personal story of starting with nothing, having nothing growing up in South Central Los Angeles, and achieving the American dream. That resonates with a lot of people who are facing struggles all over the state. I think he changed the conversation.”

More than 40% of the 9.2 million Californians who voted in the recall skipped the second question on the ballot, the one in which they were asked to chose one of the 46 replacement candidates.

If more people had picked a candidate, Faulconer’s percentage of the vote may have increased. While a fiscal conservative, Faulconer is considered a moderate-to-liberal on pivotal social issues such as the environment, abortion and immigration. That may have made him an appealing backup choice to Democrats and independents, even if they voted against recalling Newsom.

But throughout the campaign, Newsom and his political allies worked feverishly to persuade their supporters to vote “no” on the recall and skip voting for any of the replacement candidates.

“It had the effect of really hurting the candidate on the Republican side that had the best potential future, and that’s the Faulconer campaign,” said Paul Mitchell, vice president of Polling Data Inc., a for-profit research company that consults with Democratic campaigns and tracked the ballots cast in the recall.


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