Gov. Gavin Newsom defeated an effort to recall him from office on Tuesday, beating back a conservative challenge by a gaping margin.
In a speech from Sacramento, Newsom said he was “humbled” and “grateful” for the outcome.
“‘No’ is not the only thing that was expressed tonight,” he said. “I want to focus on what we said yes to. We said yes to science. We said yes to vaccines. We said yes to ending this pandemic.”
Newsom also cited comments from former President Trump, who had suggested over the weekend that the recall would be rigged.
“Democracy is not a football. You don’t throw it around. It’s more like… an antique vase. You can drop it and smash it in a million different pieces,” Newsom said. “You know, we may have defeated Trump, but Trumpism is not dead in this country.”
CNN declared Newsom the winner at 8:39 p.m., as did the rest of the major networks. The Associated Press called the race at 8:46 p.m.
Conservative talk show host Larry Elder was leading all contenders on the replacement ballot, though it amounts to a hollow victory given the resounding defeat of the recall.
The Elder campaign has asked supporters to flag any instances of voter fraud, opening a question as to whether Elder would accept the results. But at a ballroom in Costa Mesa around 10 p.m., Elder acknowledged defeat.
“Let’s be gracious in defeat,” Elder said. “We may have lost the battle but we are going to win the war.”
The recall proponents sought to tap into frustration over COVID-19 shutdowns, as well as broader concerns around housing costs and homelessness.
But Newsom turned the tables, charging that his opponents were “anti-vax” and that a Republican victory would roll back progress on combating the virus.
Democrats also linked the recall to the Republican brand and to Trump, sometimes even going so far as to call it a “coup” and liken it to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“You either keep Gavin Newsom as your governor, or you’ll get Donald Trump,” President Biden said at a rally Monday night. “It’s not a joke.”
Newsom was able to call on big-name backing in the final weeks, with appearances from Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. He also drew on Democrats’ union-led get-out-the-vote efforts, which helped with the final push.
Polls closed at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, but voting has been underway since mid-August. Election officials mailed a ballot to every registered voter in the state, and more than 40% of them had returned their ballots before Tuesday.
Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly two-to-one in California, so Newsom and his allies had only to make sure their voters turned out in order to prevail. The “no” campaign heavily outraised the Republican challengers, and was able to blanket the airwaves with endorsement ads from President Obama and Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Hollywood lent its financial support to save Newsom. Netflix co-CEO Reed Hastings contributed $3 million to the anti-recall campaign. Other donors included the Motion Picture Association, Disney, NBCUniversal, Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures, as well as Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Haim Saban, Bryan Lourd and Barbra Streisand.
Newsom’s campaign branded the recall as a Republican takeover, despite protests from recall supporters that their effort was bipartisan. Key to that strategy was ensuring that no prominent Democrat appeared on the replacement ballot.
Though some questioned the strategy, it appears to have helped keep the party united behind Newsom.
Caitlyn Jenner, star of “I Am Cait” and “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” was running 12th among the replacement candidates in early returns.