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Everything you need to know about California's recall election

Gov. Gavin Newsom
Posted at 9:22 AM, Sep 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-13 13:29:22-04

Californians on Tuesday will head to the polls for a rare chance to decide whether they want their current governor to remain in office in an election that could have far-reaching implications.

Tuesday marks just the second recall election in state history and could result in the ousting of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Here is everything you need to know about Tuesday's recall election.

How did we get here?

Previously, Newsom served as the lieutenant governor to fellow Democrat Jerry Brown, who was termed out in 2018. Newsom ran to replace Brown and easily defeated Republican candidate Jerry Cox in the 2018 gubernatorial election.

While Newsom remains popular among Democrats, his approval rating among Republicans plummeted in late 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Morning Consult. The drop in approval mirrored a devastating surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths in the winter months. During that surge, Newsom was photographed dining maskless at an upscale restaurant in Napa Valley, calling to question his commitment to the COVID-19 restrictions he had put in place.

How does a recall election work?

According to NPR, every governor of California in the last 60 years has faced a recall attempt. In fact, NBC News reports that Newsom has already faced six recall attempts during his short time in office.

While recall campaigns are common in California, they rarely reach the ballot. Tuesday's recall election is just the second such election in state history.

In order to hold a recall vote, organizers typically have five months to garner enough signatures to cover 12% of the vote total from the previous gubernatorial election. However, due to the pandemic, a judge granted organizers an additional four months to get the 1.5 million signatures needed. NPR reports that organizers ultimately got 1.7 million signatures, forcing a vote.

What does the ballot look like?

On Tuesday, Californians will be asked two questions: 1.) Should Newsom be recalled, and 2.) If he is recalled, who should replace him? Those voting do not need to answer both questions.

If more than half of voters answer "yes" to the first question, the leading vote-getter on the second question will be named the state's new governor.

Who's running to replace Newsom?

According to the Los Angeles Times, 46 candidates will appear on the recall ballot. Polling shows that conservative radio host Larry Elder is currently the frontrunner among replacement candidates. Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and billionaire businessman John Cox are also among those with significant polling numbers.

Perhaps the most well-known person seeking to replace Newsom is Caitlyn Jenner, the reality TV star and former Olympian. She announced her candidacy in April, though polling shows she faces long odds to win.

What does the polling say?

Polling aggregator FiveThirtyEight projects that Newsom has about a 58% chance of remaining in office following Tuesday's vote. Polls conducted this month indicate that anywhere from 53% to 60% of Californians favor keeping their current governor.

Has a California governor ever been recalled before?

Though there has only been one other recall election in California's history, it did result in the election of a new governor. In 2003, a majority of voters chose to oust Democrat Gray Davis from Sacramento and install Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, a well-known actor and bodybuilder, before venturing into politics.

What's at stake?

In addition to leading policy for the country's largest state population and economy, the recall could significantly impact national politics.

With the U.S. Senate evenly split at 50-50, California's governor could decide which party controls the chamber in the event one of the state's two Senators resigns or is incapacitated. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the state's senior Senator, is one of the body's oldest members at 88 years old.

Tuesday's vote could also be interpreted as a referendum on President Joe Biden's first year in office. Biden says he supports Newsom's administration and will be campaigning for him in person on Monday night.