I sifted through the results and came up with some of the biggest hits — and misses — of the campaign that was. They’re below.
* Democratic strategists: The big question in the coming 2022 midterm elections is how Democrats can fire up their party base given that they control the White House, House and Senate, a sure-fire recipe for political lethargy. Newsom was battling that same lack of passion in this race — right up until he started to shine a very bright light on Elder as a Donald Trump clone. Even though the former president wasn’t on the California ballot, he was, quite clearly, a vote motivator for plenty of base Democrats in the state. Of course, most states aren’t as strongly Democratic as California. But, even so, if even the prospect of Trump or one of his acolytes can (still) drive base turnout, that’s a valuable piece of information for Democrats heading into the midterms.
* Coronavirus competence: More than 3 in 10 California voters on Tuesday said that the coronavirus was the most pressing issue facing the nation right now. And Newsom won 80% of their votes. He had turned his messaging in the final days of the campaign to one centered on his competence in dealing with the virus and his willingness to make the hard choices necessary to get it under control in the state. “‘No’ is not the only thing that was expressed tonight,” Newsom said in his victory speech. “We said yes to science, yes to vaccines, yes to ending this pandemic.” You can be sure that Joe Biden and his team were watching the recall closely — and will be gratified by the vote of confidence for Covid competence since that is at the core of the argument the President is making to the public right now.
* Establishment Republicans: There’s very little chance that Republicans will be winning a regularly-scheduled gubernatorial election in California anytime soon. But there was quite clearly an opportunity during this recall to do just that. Newsom had been badly damaged by his hypocrisy on Covid-19 guidelines and there was a significant chunk of Californians fed up with the status quo. (Don’t believe me? Just go back and look at the polling from about six weeks ago.) The problem for Republicans is they had no Arnold Schwarzenegger — or anyone with even a smidgen of the Governator’s cross-party appeal. That Elder, a conservative talk radio show host, emerged as the strongest Republican candidate speaks primarily to how incredibly weak the GOP bench in the state actually is.