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Recall’s poll momentum isn’t just about Newsom

Tim Hearden WFP-hearden-sac-capitol-dome.JPG
Voters may see an opportunity to register general discontent with the trajectory of our politics.

State governors and other leaders across the country, on both sides of the aisle, have faced no shortage of criticism in recent months for their handling of current events. That’s certainly true in California, where critics of Gov. Gavin Newsom succeeded in placing a recall vote on the ballot. But in a deep blue state with Democratic supermajorities in the Legislature, it was widely assumed that Newsom would easily survive the recall attempt – until recently.

A poll taken last week by Survey USA and the San Diego Union-Tribune showed the Sept. 14 recall leading by 11 points – 51% in favor to 40% opposed. Other recent polls have given Newsom supporters only a sliver of a lead after earlier surveys showed the “no” vote way ahead.

Why the turnaround? The San Francisco Chronicle’s Eric Ting suggests the catalyst could be the rise of new coronavirus variants and subsequent local mask mandates, which Newsom supports. Or the polls could be “just noise,” Ting cautions.

Farm groups have been silent on the recall question, which is understandable given their pragmatic approach to the realities of the political landscape. Their critique of Newsom’s leadership has been mixed; the California Farm Bureau estimated last year that state-ordered lockdowns were costing agricultural businesses as much as $8.6 billion. Groups have also chided the governor over water and forest management.

Ag has also praised Newsom, including when he vetoed a state bill in 2019 that would have locked in environmental regulations as they existed when former President Barack Obama left office. More recently, he was the first leader in decades to meaningfully shore up funding for the University of California Cooperative Extension.

But Newsom may have unintentionally made his own case for recall in the minds of many voters when he warned – more than once – that it could have national implications. Some voters may see this as a feature, not a bug.

This is the first election of national significance since the Georgia U.S. Senate runoffs in January, and a lot of controversies have arisen at the state and national levels since then. Voters frustrated by our overall political trajectory may see the recall as an opportunity to hold a referendum on everything.

Obama didn’t do Newsom any favors by hobnobbing with folks from our beloved Hollywood at his massive birthday party, perhaps reminding voters of the governor’s French Laundry moment. But Newsom didn’t help himself, either, with a recent photo op showing him picking up trash in Berkeley. It drew attention to the urban homelessness crisis rather than, say, any leadership he may be providing on the wildfires.

Whatever the polls say, Newsom should still be heavily favored to defeat the recall. But people are in a mood to lash out, and Newsom may just find himself in the way.

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