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Wake Up To Politics - September 14, 2021

Wake Up To Politics: Your guide to the California recall election
Wake Up To Politics - September 14, 2021

Good morning! It’s Tuesday, September 14, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 420 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,148 days away.

Your guide to the California recall

Voters in America’s most populous state — and the world’s fifth largest economy — will head to the polls today to decide whether or not to oust their governor, Gavin Newsom, in the middle of his term. Here’s what you need to know about the California recall election:

Recalls are very rare. California is one of 20 states that allows for its governor to be recalled, or removed from office early by the voters. Rules vary from state to state, but opponents of the incumbent generally need to get a petition signed by a certain number of voters to initiate a recall election.

  • There have only been three other gubernatorial recall elections in U.S. history. Two of the three governors were successfully recalled, Republican Lynn Frazier of North Dakota (1921) and Democrat Gray Davis of California (2003), while Republican Scott Walker of Wisconsin (2012) survived his recall attempt.

California’s recall process involves two ballot questions. When Golden State voters cast their ballots today, they will see two questions. The first, “Question 1,” asks whether or not the voter wants to keep Newsom in office. “Question 2” then lists the 46 candidates who qualified for the ballot to potentially replace him.

  • If a simple majority votes “yes” on Question 1, Newsom is out, and the next governor will be whoever obtains a plurality of votes on Question 2. That means Newsom could receive close to a majority of votes on Question 1, but then have to surrender his office to a candidate who wins a much smaller percentage of votes (but a plurality) on Question 2. (If a majority vote “no” on Question 1, the votes on Question 2 don’t mean anything.)
Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) faces a recall election today. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

The Newsom recall has largely been about the pandemic. Since taking office in January 2019, Newsom had faced six previous petitions attempting to set up a recall election against him. The seventh petition, which led to today’s election, registered a range of complains against the governor: “People in this state suffer the highest taxes in the nation, the highest homelessness rates, and the lowest quality of life as a result,” the petition said.

  • The petition launched in February 2020 — before coronavirus became widespread in the U.S. — but it quickly became a referendum on Newsom’s handling of the pandemic. Anger over the Democratic governor’s coronavirus restrictions largely fueled the successful signature drive, especially after Newsom himself flouted social distancing guidelines by attending a dinner party at the restaurant French Laundry.
  • In recent weeks, however, it has been Newsom who has seized on the pandemic while campaigning for his political survival. As coronavirus cases have spiked across the country, Newsom has argued that his public health measures were pivotal in protecting Californians, making Covid a key issue for both sides of the recall debate.

Newsom’s polling lead has steadily grown. Throughout August, there were a series of polls released that had Democrats worried about Newsom’s prospects. Emerson College, for example, released a poll at the beginning of the month showing California voters nearly tied on whether or not to remove Newsom: 48% said they supported keeping him, while 46% said they were backing the recall.

  • But as time has gone on, and Democrats from Joe Biden on down have traveled to the state to whip up support for Newsom, the governor’s support has grown. Emerson College released their final pre-recall poll on Monday, and this time it showed voters heavily in favor of keeping Newsom, 60% to 40%.
Conservative radio host Larry Elder is the top-polling candidate to replace Newsom if he is recalled. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Why have Newsom’s odds of staying in office improved? Because this isn’t 2003. This year’s recall campaign has been repeatedly compared to the successful 2003 recall of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, the last time California voters had the chance to throw out their governor. But Newsom faces some key advantages that Davis lacked: for one thing, the composition of the California electorate has become increasingly more diverse and more Democratic since 2003. And Newsom’s approval ratings are higher than Davis’ heading into the recall.

  • Davis also suffered from facing a high-profile Republican opponent: the actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who went on to replace him as governor. None of the Republicans running on the replacement line this year — including radio host Larry Elder, businessman John Cox, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner — have been able to recreate the appeal of “The Terminator.”
  • In addition, Democrats have changed their strategy since 2003. No prominent Democratic elected officials are running on the replacement line, as part of an effort to encourage voters to skip over “Question 2” entirely and focus on saving Newsom on “Question 1.” By contrast, Davis’ own lieutenant governor ran in the 2003 recall against him. (The Democratic strategy this year is a risky one, since it all but guarantees Newsom will be replaced by a Republican if he is recalled. The highest-polling Democrat on “Question 2” is Kevin Paffrath, a real estate YouTuber.)

Republicans are laying the groundwork to baselessly contest the election. In an interview on Monday, Larry Elder — who has emerged as the clear frontrunner in “Question 2,” should Newsom be recalled — notably declined to commit to accepting the results of today’s election. That came as NBC News reported that Elder’s campaign website already links to a page claiming to have “detected fraud” resulting in Newsom winning the recall, even though no winner has been declared and not a single ballot has even been counted.

“California tends to preview America’s political future,” The Atlantic noted in a piece on the recall election last month. From the rise of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, to fights over immigration and same-sex marriage, to the emergence of a celebrity politician (Schwarzenegger) — the political events in the Golden State have often presaged what what will happen in the country at large.

In this case, the recall election is a skewed sample set for the rest of the country, since California has become increasingly Democratic-leaning over time. But the race is still one of the earliest electoral tests of the Biden era, and a key test of the grassroots enthusiasm on both sides of the aisle heading into 2022. Even a slim victory by Newsom (compounded by the fact that he’s in this situation at all) will be seen as a negative indicator for Democrats.

Opinions of the president (and the former president), and of the pandemic, have become central to the recall race, further lending it a national flavor. And besides: California’s governor sets the direction for a state of 40 million people, almost 12% of the nation. With that much at stake, it’s worth keeping an eye on whether or not Newsom survives today — and if so, by how much.

Polls will close in California at 8 p.m. Pacific Time. Check back in tomorrow’s newsletter for results (if we have them).

As goes California, so goes the nation. Sometimes. (Photo by Joseph Thornton)

Policy Roundup: Education

All the education news you need to know this week, by Wake Up To Politics contributor Kirsten Shaw Mettler:

President Biden’s new vaccine mandate applies to higher education. Biden announced new Covid-19 vaccination requirements and guidelines on Thursdays, ordering companies with over 100 employees to require vaccination or weekly testing, with vaccines required outright for federal workers and contractors.

  • Most colleges and universities are expected to be impacted by these rules due to their size and federal relationships. The regulation announcement comes as professors across the country call for increased safety measures with the return to in-person learning.

K-12 schools will be also be affected by the mandate but less consistently. Schools run by the federal government fall under the federal workers and contractors section of the vaccine mandate, meaning that all of their staff must be vaccinated. Approximately 1 million of the estimated 57 million elementary and secondary school students in the United Stated attend federally-run schools that would be impacted by this requirement.

  • The vast majority of K-12 schools are not federally-run. While the administration’s new vaccine mandate did not include requirements for these non-federal schools, it did released updated recommendations that emphasized employee vaccinations, masking, and testing.

Meanwhile, school districts are reopening. On Monday, New York City, the largest school district in the country, opened for in-person learning, signaling a return to “normal.” But, returning back to school may be more difficult than initially anticipated, with children currently making up 28.9% of COVID-19 cases nationally and districts battling the unexpected challenges of surges and quarantines.

  • Although schools across the country are facing similar challenges in reopening, they are being met with drastically different political landscapes. Los Angeles became the first major school district in the U.S. to require Covid-19 vaccinations for eligible students last week, while an appeals court in Florida sided with Gov. Ron Desantis in saying that he could ban school mask requirements.
As students return to classrooms, school districts vary in their Covid policies. (Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages)

More education policy headlines, via Kirsten:

  • House Democrats released their higher education spending proposals on Wednesday.
  • U.S. News & World Report revealed their annual ranking of colleges and universities. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, standardized testing was given less weight this year.
  • Harvard University announced on Thursday that it will be divesting from fossil fuels.


What’s happening in Washington today. (All times Eastern, unless otherwise noted.) Executive Branch
— President Joe Biden will start his day in Long Beach, California, where he campaigned for Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) on Monday. At 10:10 a.m. Pacific Time, he will depart Long Beach for Denver, Colorado, where he will arrive at 1:10 p.m Mountain Time.

  • At 2:50 p.m. Mountain Time, Biden will visit the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado. At 3:30 p.m. Mountain Time, he will deliver remarks at NREL “underscoring how the investments in his Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal and Build Back Better Agenda will help tackle the climate crisis, modernize our infrastructure, and strengthen our country’s resilience while creating good-paying, union jobs and advancing environmental justice.”
  • At 5:10 p.m. Mountain Time, Biden will depart Colorado, touching down at the White House at 10:10 p.m.

— Vice President Kamala Harris will deliver remarks at 7:10 p.m. at a fundraiser for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe at a private residence in Great Falls, Virginia.

— First Lady Jill Biden will deliver pre-recorded remarks at 4 p.m. at a virtual launch event for the Hiring Our Heroes Remote Military Spouse Economic Empowerment Zone (MSEEZ). At 8 p.m., she will attend and deliver remarks at the 50th anniversary concert for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

— White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will hold a press gaggle aboard Air Force One during the flight to Denver.

Legislative Branch

— The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. Folowing remarks from the party leaders, the chamber will resume consideration of James Kvaal’s nomination to be Under Secretary of Education. At 11:30 a.m., the Senate will vote on Kvaal’s confirmation, followed by a cloture vote to advance David Estudillo’s nomination to be a U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Washington.

  • Following the cloture vote, the Senate will recess until 2:15 p.m. for weekly caucus meetings. At 2:20 p.m., the chamber will vote on Estudillo’s confirmation, followed by a cloture vote on Angel Kelley’s nomination to be a U.S. District Judge for the District of Massachusetts.
  • At 5:30 p.m., the Senate will vote on Kelley’s confirmation, followed by a cloture vote to advance Veronica Rossman’s nomination to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Tenth Circuit.

— The House will convene at 11 a.m. for a brief pro forma session. The chamber will not return for a full session until September 20.

— Two Senate committees will hear testimony on the Afghanistan withdrawal. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a closed briefing at 3:30 p.m. with Gen. Austin Scott Miller, who was the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan until July.

— Five House committees will meet to mark up their portions of the Democratic reconciliation package. The Ways and Means Committee will meet at 9 a.m., the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will meet at 10 a.m., and the Homeland Security Committee will meet at 12 p.m.

Judicial Branch
— The Supreme Court is on recess until October 4.

— Polling places in California will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Pacific Time in the recall election of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA).

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