SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom is using increasingly stark language as he campaigns in the final month of a tight recall election, calling it “a matter of life or death” that voters keep him in office and he is increasingly targeting a single Republican candidate: talk show host Larry Elder. Mail-in voting already has started and Democrats worry their voters are less aware and motivated than Republicans, who gathered the signatures that gave voters a chance to boot Newsom from office a year early. Election Day is Sept. 14 but most votes will be cast before then.
Newsom, a first-term Democrat who earlier relied on the bully pulpit of his office to make his case, is now in campaign mode, with a packed schedule of events. President Joe Biden announced plans to campaign for him, and prominent Democrats are warning California’s pandemic response, environmental leadership and progressive values are under serious threat.
Newsom’s latest campaign ad, released Monday, puts the election in blunt terms: “What’s at stake in the Sept. 14 recall? It’s a matter of life and death,” the narrator says. The ad calls Elder “the top Republican candidate” and highlights his opposition to mask and vaccine mandates.
Elder, who is seeking to become California’s first Black governor, tweeted that Newsom has repeatedly “quashed our freedoms” with his actions during the pandemic that included the nation’s first statewide stay-home order while “allowing crime and homelessness to balloon.”
It would be a remarkable turn for voters to remove Newsom after they sent him to Sacramento three years ago with the largest margin of victory in modern state history. Once the recall qualified for the ballot Newsom was able to keep any other prominent elected Democrat off the ballot, turning the contest into a highly partisan one.
Last week, he implored Democrats to pay attention, saying the race is close.
“His particular challenge is to persuade Democrats that they really need to take this seriously and that they need to go out and vote,” said Jim Newton, who teaches communication and public policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, and is a former political reporter for the Los Angeles Times. “One way to do it is to remind them that this is not just an empty exercise, that there are real consequences to it.”
Newsom has found his foil in Elder, who does not support the minimum wage or abortion rights and has used his nationally syndicated radio show as a platform for conspiracy theories involving the Coronavirus vaccine.