Despite concerns about voter enthusiasm, Newsom’s fate looks good in California recall

With just hours left until voting ends in California in the recall election of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newson, Stephanie Sy provides us with an overview of the recall and we check in with Scott Shafer, politics and government editor for public media station KQED in San Francisco, about the latest in the race.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's Election Day in California, where Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom is facing a recall effort in one of the bluest states in the nation.

    Stephanie Sy has this report from Orange County.

  • Man:

    Recall Newsom!

  • Stephanie Sy:

    California is at a crossroads. In these final hours, the stakes and emotions couldn't be higher.

  • Woman:

    California needs a change.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    The decision up to 22 million voters, should they keep or remove their governor, Democrat Gavin Newsom.

  • James Mai, California Resident:

    The people are fed up.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    James Mai organized this pro-recall rally in Orange County. He and other Republican Party activists helped collect the nearly 1.5 million signatures required to trigger the special election, only the second in the state's history.

  • Sky Jones, California Resident:

    Have you been to L.A. Lately? It looks like a Third World country.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Their concerns range from rising crime and homelessness to high taxes.

    But supercharging their zeal, the coronavirus pandemic and Newsom's strict public health measures that shuttered businesses and schools at the height of the pandemic. While COVID-19 cases are down in California and many schools are reopening, Mai says his 10-year-old son is still reeling from the loss of a year in the classroom.

  • James Mai:

    Allow us to have a choice. Don't close our businesses, don't close our schools, don't close our churches.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Newsom's critics seized on this moment last November, when the governor was captured in photos dining at a fancy restaurant, while the rest of the state was in lockdown.

  • Sky Jones:

    He kept prolonging it and prolonging it. But yet he went out and had dinner with friends. His kids were going to private school and not wearing a mask. So, it was like kind of hypocritical of him.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    While these recall supporters in Orange County are fired up, Orange County is traditionally a more conservative area. In much of the state, it's an uphill battle, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans in California by almost 2-1.

    Just to the north, in Los Angeles County, Democrat Fatima Iqbal-Zubair, a candidate for state assembly, is knocking doors.

    Fatima Iqbal-Zubair (D), California State Assembly Candidate: I will be the first as a progressive to criticize Newsom where I can.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    She doesn't agree with Newsom on everything.

  • Fatima Iqbal-Zubair:

    The alternative is awful.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    But Iqbal-Zubair is doing everything she can to help turn out voters for him. She says she's working to protect her 7-year-old son, Aydin, and others she believes will be harmed by the policies of a Republican governor.

  • Fatima Iqbal-Zubair:

    It's awful for kids like my son, who have special needs, who might have funding cut to the programs he needs in school, to immigrants, to the undocumented community. It really scares me that if — when I think about if we Governor Newsom.

  • Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA):

    This is the sixth recall effort.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And while the most recent polling suggests Newsom is likely to hold on, the Democratic Party is worried enough it's brought out its big guns.

    Joe Biden, President of the United States: We need science. We need courage. We need leadership. We need Gavin Newsom.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    That includes visits by President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, a former California senator.

    The only other time in state history Californians held a recall election was in 2003, when voters ousted incumbent Democratic Governor Gray Davis, and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger got the most votes to replace him.

    Larry Elder (R), California Gubernatorial Candidate: Vote yes on the recall.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    But politics have changed since, and the Trump effect is a wild card.

  • Larry Elder:

    Women exaggerate the problem of sexism.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Conservative radio host Larry Elder, who is leading the GOP pack of more than 40 candidates vying to replace Newsom, has been speaking to Trump's base.

  • Larry Elder:

    I'm going to have a declaration for a state of emergency for the absolute ridiculous other mandates that this man has imposed.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Elder's controversial remarks could be a liability, says Scott Shafer of KQED.

  • Scott Shafer, KQED:

    It's really in some ways Christmas in September for Gavin Newsom, because Larry Elder has said some very outlandish things about slavery and reparations and women in the workplace. And it's coming back to haunt him and the Republican Party.

  • Man:

    I feel like everybody that's running on the recall is kind of a joke.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    At this L.A. area farmers market, voters expressed concern about Newsom's possible replacements.

  • Vanessa Peters, California Resident:

    I would be horrified if the vote was split and we got someone who didn't know what they were doing and walked into office and just messed things up for everyone.

  • Mike Netter, Recall Organizer:

    Used to be voting day. Now it's voting season.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Mike Netter, another conservative radio host, who helped launch the recall, believes the Trump base will be crucial for turnout.

  • Mike Netter:

    So, if Elder stimulates people to come out to vote, it's good for the recall of Gavin Newsom. If it turns off some Democrats, I guess it turns off some Democrats.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    But those same voters, Trump and Elder himself, are already questioning the legitimacy of the special election, that is, if Newsom wins, echoing the former president's false claims that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent.

  • Woman:

    I think the election, if he wins, it would be fraudulent.

  • Mike Netter:

    It does us, no good, zero good to say, oh, there's fraud, oh, don't vote, absolutely not. We want people to vote.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Are you worried about that, though, because there is that sentiment among some Republicans?

  • Mike Netter:

    Yes, I am.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Republicans will need massive turnout on Election Day in order to overcome the sheer number of California's Democratic voters.

  • Woman:

    You guys are voting in the recall too, right?

  • Woman:

    Yes.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    More than seven million votes have already been cast by mail.

  • Woman:

    So you don't need this, then? You already returned your ballot, right?

  • Man:

    Yes, I mailed it in, mailed it in.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    But turnout among Democrats has been a concern as well.

    Fatima Iqbal-Zubair is working to ensure enough Democrats actually vote, after July polling showed many were apathetic to the recall outcome.

  • Fatima Iqbal-Zubair:

    The good news is, we don't need every registered Democrat in the state to vote, right? We don't. We do need a percentage of them to get out and vote.

    Do I think the young people are, like, as excited to go out to vote? Honestly, probably not.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Does that worry you?

  • Fatima Iqbal-Zubair:

    It does not, because I think that we have enough of the voters that are energized, from what I'm feeling now. I was concerned . If you asked me this a month or two months ago, I was like, man, like, what is the party doing? What are doing to get the word out on the recall?

  • Stephanie Sy:

    While the math appears to be in Newsom's favor, both sides are pushing for every last vote, hoping to leave nothing to chance.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Stephanie Sy in Southern California.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And with just hours left until voting ends in California, we check in once again with Scott Shafer, politics and government editor for public media station KQED in San Francisco. He also hosts the "Political Breakdown" podcast.

    So, Scott Shafer, welcome back to the program.

    In these final hours of campaigning, tell us what they are saying, each one of the campaigns. What are they worried about and what are they saying about turnout?

  • Scott Shafer:

    Well, Governor Newsom was in San Francisco today thanking volunteers.

    And I have to say, Judy, he had a bit of a bounce in his step, very energetic. And the polls back him up. I haven't seen a single poll that shows this recall passing. Republicans, on the other hand, I think, are very concerned about turnout. The early votes really have favored the Democrats in terms of ballots returned.

    And you have got, like, the head of the Republican Party saying things like, well, even if the recall doesn't succeed, we really sent a message to Gavin Newsom.

    That's not the kind of things you say if you think you're about to have a big victory. And, privately, both Republican and Democratic Republicans think it's going to be a win for Newsom tonight. The question is how big, especially compared to the 24-point margin he had in 2018, when he was first elected.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Scott, you're referring to the fact people have been voting. There's been this mail-in ballot.

    How has that affected the tenor of this race?

  • Scott Shafer:

    Yes, 22 million voters, all registered voters, got a ballot in the mail about a month ago.

    And there was a lot of concern, as Stephanie said in her piece, that Democrats weren't very engaged. But we have not seen that. The ballots are tracked by a firm in California. And more than half of the ballots returned, nine million now, it's up to, over that, in fact, were sent by Democrats.

    And there's five million more Democrats in the state than there are Republicans. So, if Republicans are going to catch up, they have to have a really massive turnout today on Election Day in person. And we're not really seeing that, in talking and hearing, listening to what's going on around the state. There are — polling places are busy, but they're not overwhelmed.

    It's not the kind of surge you might see if it was going to be a huge Republican turnout.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That the Republicans would want.

    And, finally, just quickly, are Republicans, is Larry Elder saying anything to back up this claim that the election may not be legitimate if Newsom hangs on?

  • Scott Shafer:

    Well, there is nothing to back it up. It's totally fabricated.

    Governor Newsom today called those comments by him and former President Trump shameful. And so it's really just something that can't be proved because it's not true.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Scott Shafer with KQED in San Francisco, watching it until all the ballots are counted.

    Thank you, Scott.

  • Scott Shafer:

    Thank you.

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