What The California Recall Election Candidates Are Saying To Rally Last Minute Voters
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
And this is it. Today is the last day for voters here in California to weigh in on the recall effort against Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom. Newsom and many of his challengers have been out and about all around the state making final pitches to voters. We'll be tracking developments throughout this evening. And joining us now is Katie Orr, politics and government reporter at member station KQED.
KATIE ORR, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.
CHANG: So what can you tell us about the turnout so far at this point?
ORR: Well, there are about 22 million registered voters in California, and all of them were mailed a ballot for this election - or you could vote in person today. So earlier today, we knew that there were already about 8.7 million votes cast. And about half of those came from Democrats, and the other half was split between Republicans and independent voters and voters for other parties.
CHANG: OK. And what have candidates on either side of the aisle been saying to try to get voters to turn out for any last-minute voting today?
ORR: So Newsom and his allies are primarily talking about staying the course to get through COVID. You're hearing from a number of high-profile national Democrats like President Joe Biden, former President Barack Obama, that describe voting to remove Newsom from office as essentially the same as voting for Trump-like politics in California. They say things like mask mandates and vaccine mandates will be rolled back and people will be essentially less safe.
Republicans, primarily the front-runner candidate, Larry Elder, they're really playing up the message that Newsom has acted like a dictator during the pandemic and that a vote to remove him is a vote in favor of personal freedoms. Elder's also really playing up the claim that there has been voter fraud in this election, but we just need to be clear - there has been zero evidence of that.
CHANG: Let's talk a little more about Elder, the conservative radio show host. I mean, he's really surprised people with his quick rise in the polls. How has the thinking about Elder evolved among Republicans as this race went on?
ORR: Well, I think when he first decided to get into the race, there was a lot of excitement because he does have such a nationally known presence. He has a radio show that is syndicated across the country. And, you know, there was the feeling that he could really sort of gin up a lot of excitement for this recall.
And the state GOP actually made a decision not to endorse any Republican candidate in the race. And the thinking was that they didn't want to discourage any Republican voters from coming out. So more moderate voters might go with former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. More conservative voters might go with Larry Elder. They wanted them all.
But as Elder gained momentum, there's been more reporting into his past, which includes some controversial opinions. For instance, like employers should be allowed to ask women if they plan to become pregnant; things like that. And because his opinions and controversies are so far right, Newsom's campaign has really come to see Elder as a gift. And it's unlikely that a Republican would have won anyway, but the party might have missed an opportunity to begin reestablishing itself in California as a legitimate force. Because right now, it's really not.
CHANG: Well, whether it is Newsom, Elder or someone else who's governor at the end of all of this, there's only - what? - like, a little more than a year before it's time to run for reelection. Do you get the sense that the candidates are already looking ahead to 2022 now?
ORR: I mean, absolutely. Newsom has - himself has said that he's already exhausted, but that things are going to get going right away. The primary is scheduled for June, so we're not going to get much of a break in California.
CHANG: Katie Orr is KQED's capital reporter in Sacramento.
Thank you, Katie.
ORR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.