Air Force One and President Joe Biden hadn’t even touched down at Long Beach Airport Monday night when advisers to Gavin Newsom were already declaring the recall campaign over.
“There’s no scenario where we lose tomorrow,” Sean Clegg, a Newsom adviser, told reporters, adding that he sees “a blue giant waking up.”
Still, to make sure that blue giant didn’t hit the snooze button on the last day of the recall campaign, Biden returned to the state he won by 30 percentage points less than a year ago to try and make sure Newsom defeated Larry Elder and the Republican recall by a healthy margin, telling a crowd at Long Beach City College that “the eyes of the nation are on California” and warning them they can “either keep Gavin Newsom as your governor, or you’ll get Donald Trump.”
“All of you know last year I got to run against the real Donald Trump,” Biden told the crowd. “Well this year the leading Republican running for governor is the closest thing to a Trump clone that I’ve ever seen in your state. He’s leading the other team. He’s the clone of Donald Trump. Can you imagine him being governor of this state? You can’t let that happen. There’s too much at stake.”
And if the polls are to be believed, Newsom and Democrats—from California to the White House—are about to exhale a big sigh of relief after Biden flew West Monday to help Newsom finish off a victory that not that long ago was far from assured and making lots of people nervous.
With almost 8.5 million Californians having already voted, per the Washington Post, and Democrats enjoying a massive edge in those numbers along a partisan breakdown, Newsom’s aides were confident ahead of Tuesday.
But a month ago, the anticipated landslide was far from a sure thing, and Democrats were fretting about whether a Trumpian Republican was about to take the helm of the nation’s biggest Blue State. Such an unthinkable loss threatens to take California’s COVID response down the same disastrous road as states like Florida and Texas. Nationally, it would represent a political earthquake that would all but kill off the rest of Biden’s domestic agenda ahead of next year’s midterm elections.
When the Delta variant started surging and the Supreme Court damn near finished off legal abortions in Texas, the real-world implications of a successful recall and a Republican governor started to come into focus.
And so did Larry Elder.
Caitlyn Jenner’s campaign face-planted almost immediately, providing lots of room for Elder to emerge as the Republican frontrunner. As he did, the right-wing radio host saw a laundry list of his controversial-to-shocking remarks come back and bite him in the ass—both Newsom and Biden ran through Elder’s, um, greatest hits at their Monday night rally—and voters began to see a head-to-head race between Newsom and Elder even though Newsom had to get to 50 percent to win the recall and Elder could’ve won with peanuts.
And the more serious the problems facing the state and the country—Delta, abortion, domestic extremism—the more Newsom’s efforts trumped Elder’s conspiracy theories and attacks.
Or as Newsom put it Monday night: “We may have defeated Donald Trump, but we have not defeated Trumpism. Trumpism is still on the ballot here in California.”
Enter Biden to attempt to remind voters what happens when you vote for a public servant instead of the circus act who makes you laugh. In Long Beach on Monday night, Democrat after Democrat tied Newsom’s impending victory to Biden’s agenda.
“The rest of America is counting on you, and so am I,” Biden said.
The emphasis on earnest if imperfect efforts at good governance could apply to Biden as well as Newsom. The theme seems to be: Hey, at least they’re trying to find solutions while the other side is throwing around deranged conspiracy theories, lying about being cheated out of an election that, in this case, hadn’t even happened yet, and playing footsie with violent domestic extremists.
Even during the apolitical portion of Biden’s trip to the state, he reminded Californians of what was at stake with their vote. While in Sacramento earlier in the day, the president and Newsom visited the Cal OES, the governor’s office of emergency services. The governor said he had joked to the president “this has been my office basically the last 18 months with COVID and wildfires.”
“The governor has led this state with poise and strong leadership,” Biden said in later remarks.
The official visit, combined with Biden calling for Congress to help him in addressing climate change, presented a stark contrast with Elder’s Rose McGowan/Scott Baio events and memories of Trump calling for the forests to be more thoroughly raked.
“We can’t ignore the reality that these wildfires are being supercharged by climate change,” Biden said. “It isn’t about red or blue states. It’s about fires. Just fires.”
Elder said in August he was “not sure” if climate change had any impact on the fires.
As far as campaign messages go, those aren’t night and day. They’re night and a pineapple on pizza. Elder spent Monday refusing to say if he’d accept the results of the election while Newsom spent the day at work with his close ally, the president of the United States. And ultimately, that seems to be what will make the difference in this race.
Pandemics, wildfires, and goofy, expensive recalls are a bad mix. It’s a lesson Joe Biden flew West to remind us of, it’s a lesson that will probably save Gavin Newsom, and it’s a lesson Republicans seem hellbent on learning over and over again.
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