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How Things Are Looking For Gov. Gavin Newsom A Week Before The Recall Election

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

All right. Let's focus on California now, where this time next week, the state could elect a new governor. That is because Tuesday is the deadline for the state's recall election and for voters to weigh-in on whether they want to keep Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, or boot him out of office and replace him with someone from the long list of candidates eyeing his seat. Libby Denkmann from member station KPCC joins us now.

Hey there, Libby.

LIBBY DENKMANN, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: All right. So Governor Newsom is being recalled, but I gather new polls show that he could be safe. What is the latest that you're seeing?

DENKMANN: Sure. There is a big question about whether he will be recalled. An average of recent polls shows Newsom defeating that challenge among likely voters by about 10 points. And this is an improvement for him over polling that was released last month that showed likely voters more evenly split on the recall. A little background here - the California recall ballot has two questions. The first lets voters decide whether the governor should be removed from office, and if Newsom gets a majority of votes on that question, he doesn't have to worry about the second question on the ballot. That's where 46 challengers are vying to replace him.

The California Democratic Party strongly discouraged any mainstream member of the party from getting into the race as a backup candidate. So the leading Democrat on the second question is a financial advice YouTuber named Kevin Paffrath, who is a newcomer to politics. But by far, the front-runner is a Republican conservative talk show host named Larry Elder, who came into this race fast and furious.

KELLY: We'll stay with him for a second since he's the front-runner. He's a conservative talk show host. What else should we know about him?

DENKMANN: Well, Elder's been on the air for nearly three decades in Los Angeles. He introduces himself as the Sage from South Central. He's a flame thrower on air, and that hasn't changed much during this recall election, which is his first political campaign. Elder's policy positions are pretty far to the right of the average Californian on COVID. He wants to eliminate masking and vaccine mandates. And there's education. Elder has declared war on teachers' unions and promised to neutralize their power and expand charter school access if he's elected. He's pledged to fire the state's quote, "worst teachers." At a rally in the suburbs of LA yesterday, Elder appealed to Black and brown voters, saying they should vote to recall Governor Newsom. And that's because Democrats have taken them for granted, Elder says.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LARRY ELDER: You are being betrayed. And what they're afraid of is that Larry Elder from the hood, who went to a public school, will be able to make the case to Black and brown people. You are being betrayed. You are being used. You're being manipulated.

(CHEERING)

DENKMANN: But Black and brown leaders in California have been rallying support for Newsom. They point out that Elder denies the existence of systemic racism and opposes criminal justice reforms.

KELLY: Well, and meanwhile, hanging over all this, Libby, the constitutionality of the recall - of the whole thing - has been called into question in court. Explain what's going on.

DENKMANN: Sure. Last month, a Los Angeles area voter sued the California secretary of state, arguing the recall violates the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause. The argument goes like this - if more than half of California voters decide to recall Newsom, a challenger can be elected with a small plurality of support, potentially far fewer voters than Newsom receives from his supporters. For example, even if 49% of voters want to keep Newsom in office, just a small number, maybe 20%, could pick the next governor. But it's not clear if this challenge has any steam. A U.S. district court judge quickly denied the plaintiff's motion to delay the election saying the recall is constitutional, and the voter is appealing to the 9th Circuit.

KELLY: And what about timing? I guess we all learned last year that elections can take a little longer. Voting can take a little longer during a pandemic. When might we have the results of the recall?

DENKMANN: Sure, that was the tough lesson we all had to learn. But in California, we could get a pretty good snapshot relatively early on. California has been moving to a mostly mail election for years, and the pandemic really accelerated that. Every active, registered voter in the state got a ballot in the mail about a month ahead of Election Day. And when voters send those in or drop them off at ballot drop boxes, registrars can process them ahead of election night. And that makes counting ballots faster than in a primarily in-person election.

KELLY: That is Libby Denkmann, reporter at member station KPCC.

Thank you, Libby.

DENKMANN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.