September 13, 2021
“Why recall Newsom? Well, he acted like a tyrant.” “Homelessness, housing, taxes, water, electricity, crime, wildfires: Gavin, you failed.” “You remind me of a guy in high school who took my girlfriend, then went on to the next girl. You still think you’re better than everyone else.” These are just a few of the soundbites attacking California Governor Gavin Newsom ahead of the state’s September 14th gubernatorial recall election. If a majority of Californians vote “yes” on the recall question, Newsom will be removed from office more than a year before the end of his term. Voters in favor of the recall will then choose one of forty-six candidates vying to replace the Democratic Governor. If “yes” voters hold the majority, the candidate with the most votes will become the next Governor of California. Throughout the recall election, we have seen a total of $58.58M in advertisement expenditure across broadcast, cable, satellite, radio, and digital media, surpassing the total spend of the New York City Mayoral Primary, which held the title of most expensive race this year. Of that total, 58% of the spending has opposed the recall, 30% has supported the recall, and 12% has been get out the vote spending.
On April 25th, a petition to remove Newsom from office garnered enough valid signatures to move forward with a recall election. California is one of nineteen states in the country in which a governor can be recalled by the voters. Newsom is only the fourth governor in United States history challenged by a recall election, though he is the second in California’s history. The last successful gubernatorial recall in the country occurred in 2003, as California Democratic Governor Gray Davis was replaced by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. Legal scholars argued that Newsom’s recall election was unconstitutional, but it was affirmed by a federal judge on August 27th. While the petition was created prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, recall supporters are now largely targeting Newsom’s response to COVID-19. According to a recent poll by Survey USA, 25% of likely and actual voters listed Newsom’s handling of COVID-19 restrictions as the primary reason that he should be recalled. His spending decision-making was the second most popular answer with 18%. As only 24.1% of registered California voters are Republicans (46.5% are Democrats), the recall election is likely seen as the best opportunity for Republicans to elect their party into the Governor’s office.
In Newsom’s defense, an issue group named “Stop the Republican Recall of Governor Newsom” spent the most of any advertiser during the recall process, totaling $33.88M. Newsom enlisted the support of powerful democrats in his advertisements including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and former President Barack Obama. The advertisements emphasize Newsom’s COVID-19 response over the last year and a half, especially his vaccine mandate policies for healthcare and school workers. “Stop the Republican Recall” spent a total of $33.88M, placing $20.1M on broadcast, $5.3M on digital, $4.4M on cable, $2.5M on radio, and $1.1M on satellite advertisements.
Of the 46 candidates attempting to replace Newsom, four spent more than $150K on advertising. Businessman John Cox, who lost the 2018 California gubernatorial general election to Newsom, has spent the most of any Republican candidate, totaling over $6.9M. Conservative radio host Larry Elder has spent the second-most of Republican candidates with $4.9M, while former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer has spent nearly $900K.
In addition to Elder’s campaign spending, the Larry Elder Ballot Measure Committee also spent more than $2M in support of his bid. The committee recently ran an ad stating the recall is “not about political parties, it’s about [Newsom’s] incompetence.” Following a high-profile announcement on April 23rd, television personality Caitlyn Jenner only spent $92K on digital advertising in her attempt to replace Newsom, but struggled to gain traction through the duration of the recall process. In total, 15 different candidates and issue groups ran ads supporting the recall of Governor Newsom, totaling over $17.5M.
Recent polls suggest Newsom will survive the recall challenge, as the decision to keep him in office is currently polling at 54.7%. While this seems like a comfortable margin, polls in early August indicated the race would be much closer. Despite having many more registered Democrats than Republicans in the state, Democratic voter turnout will be crucial for Newsom’s success on September 14th. The California Secretary of State has spent over $7.1M in “get out the vote” advertisements, encouraging Californians to vote on Tuesday. Tuesday’s result will dictate whether Newsom will continue to reside in the Governor’s Mansion or be the second American governor recalled since 1913.