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Early results in for Orange County show ‘no’ trend in California recall

Voters cast their ballots in the Sept. 14 California recall election.
Voters cast their ballots on whether to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom at Huntington Beach Central Library on Tuesday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The polls are closed and votes are being tallied in the recall election of California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Early data from the Orange County Registrar of Voters office Tuesday night revealed that 57.95% of county voters chose not to recall Newsom. About 42.05% were in favor of his recall with Larry Elder, a conservative talk show host, currently leading the polls among 46 candidates running to replace Newsom.

The race has largely been framed as a contest between Newsom and Elder.

About 42% of the county’s registered voters had been counted as of press time at 9 p.m.

This is the first gubernatorial recall election in California since 2003, when then-Gov. Gray Davis was replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Only 20 other states in the U.S. allow for a gubernatorial recall. In all but Virginia, where a recall is decided by the courts, a successful recall election is decided by voters.

Recall supporters pointed to high taxes, homelessness and Newsom’s stance on immigration and the death penalty as reasons behind the recall effort, but it would be difficult to dismiss controversies surrounding the governor’s handling of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the vaccine rollouts and stories about unemployment fraud. What’s more, proponents allege that Newsom overstepped his jurisdiction and powers as a governor.

Voters line up outside to cast their ballots.
Voters line up outside to cast their ballots on whether to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom at Huntington Beach Central Library on Tuesday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Opponents of the recall pushed back on such allegations with Democrats describing the move as a power grab by Republicans.

“It appears clear that Californians will reject the Trump-style politics of the Republican Party. Here in Orange County, Democrats are working hard to get out the vote,” said Democratic Party of Orange County spokeswoman Rachel Potucek on Tuesday.

Potucek said the party aims to continue growing its voter registration lead — a little over 64,000 now, according to data from the registrar’s office Tuesday. The group gathered virtually Tuesday night to watch the election results, which Potucek said was out of an abundance of caution due to the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

“Democrats are coming away from this recall with more experience, many more voter contacts, and we’re fired up going into the 2022 midterms,” said Potucek.

Elder and his supporters held a “victory party” at the Hilton in Costa Mesa on Tuesday night. Republican Party of Orange County Chairman Fred Whitaker, who said he attended the party, expressed his personal support for Elder, who he said had the best chance of getting elected.

Whitaker said he was pleased with the turnout of Orange County Republicans, describing the number of mail-in ballots returned thus far by registered party members as “neck and neck” with Democrats. Data show that as of Tuesday night, Democrats have returned 322,128 mail-in ballots while Republicans have returned 306,705.

Gloria Kalatzis from Palos Verdes has her picture taken.
Gloria Kalatzis from Palos Verdes has her picture taken at the party for gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder at the Hilton Orange County on Tuesday, Sept.14.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“All the late votes are the conservative votes,” said Whitaker. “Folks who are kind of on the right spectrum were not trusting the mail and were going to vote centers to vote in-person or turn in their ballots in-person. I’m actually very encouraged where the results are today and I think if you get a 60 to 65% Republican turnout, the Democrat turnout — they’re not even going to come close to 50%.”

Historically, Orange County was a longtime Republican bastion in Southern California, described by former President Ronald Reagan as “where the good Republicans go before they die.” Residents voted for President Joe Biden last year and for then-candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. But Democrats lost two congressional districts in the county to Republican Reps. Young Kim and Michelle Steel in 2020, suggesting that the long-red county has not become blue but purple.

It’s uncertain where Orange County may ultimately lean on the recall in spite of early returns. There are at least 1.8 million active voters registered in the county, but as with the 2020 election, final numbers may not come in until later this month.

Betty Chu, 84, talks to another supporter at the victory party.
Betty Chu, 84, talks to another supporter at the party for gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder at the Hilton Orange County on Tuesday, Sept. 14.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

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