Newsom, a Democrat who is leading in polls, is only the fourth governor in U.S. history and the second in California to face a recall. He was elected in a landslide less than three years ago.
The leading Republican candidate is conservative talk show host Larry Elder, who is seeking to become California’s first black governor.
Newsom got a final push late Monday from President Joe Biden, who warned that the contest could shape the country’s direction on the pandemic and abortion rights. The results also are likely to influence the 2022 midterm elections, when control of Congress will be in play again. The party that controls the White House historically loses seats in midterms.
“The eyes of the nation are on California,” he warned. The recall vote is “going to reverberate around the nation and ... around the world.”
Elder staged his capstone rally in nearby Orange County, where he urged supporters to reach out to friends and neighbors to vote. The GOP will need a heroic Election Day turnout to catch Democrats, who have been turning in mail ballots in larger numbers. Nearly 8.6 million of California’s 22 million voters already have cast mail-in ballots.
“Make sure you have your friends vote, vote, vote, and try and get 10 more friends to vote and hit every call, make every call, knock on every door. We’re going to win this thing if we turn out the vote,” Elder said from a hotel ballroom in Costa Mesa.
U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, called the election an opportunity to change course in a state where Democrats hold a nearly 2-to-1 advantage among registered voters. He cited homelessness, rising crime and the wildfire-driven closure of national parks, which he said was due to “forest mismanagement.”
“And you want to reward that?” McCarthy said Tuesday on Fox News Channel’s “Fox and Friends.
In 2003, Californians removed Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and replaced him with Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. The “Terminator" actor won re-election in 2006, the last time a GOP candidate won statewide office in California.
The recall was fueled largely by anger over Newsom's actions during the pandemic, which included imposing the nation’s first statewide shutdown order. Critics said he was heavy handed, shuttering businesses and keeping children out of classrooms for longer than necessary. Newsom said his actions saved lives.
“I am angry. It should be a freedom of choice. What is this? A dictatorship?" asked Janet Webb, a 69-year-old Lafayette resident who voted for Elder.
She said squabbles over Newsom's handling of the pandemic have split her family and friends and may prompt her to move out of state.
“I can’t live here like this if they’re going to force everyone to get a vaccine," Webb said.
How California votes could determine how aggressively Democrats campaign on COVID-19 restrictions that many Republicans have decried as unnecessary and overly burdensome.
Newsom’s ouster would be a stunning rebuke in California, where the Democratic Party controls every statewide office and dominates the Legislature and the congressional delegation.