Shock poll: Newsom might lose the recall after all

AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu, File

I want to believe. The Los Angeles Times and a new poll from UC Berkeley (!) have me questioning my skepticism over the potential for success in November’s recall of Gavin Newsom. In a reversal of Newsom’s previous momentum, California voters split into a virtual tie on jettisoning their governor (via Twitchy):

Californians who say they expect to vote in the September recall election are almost evenly divided over whether to remove Gov. Gavin Newsom from office, evidence of how pivotal voter turnout will be in deciding the governor’s political fate, according to a new UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times.

The findings dispel the notion that California’s solid Democratic voter majority will provide an impenetrable shield for Newsom, and reveal a vulnerability created by a recall effort that has energized Republicans and been met with indifference by many Democrats and independent voters.

The poll found that 47% of likely California voters supported recalling the Democratic governor, compared with 50% who opposed removing Newsom from office — a difference just shy of the survey’s margin of error.

That’s quite a change from other polling in the California recall election. Among the other pollsters tracking the challenge, only Emerson has put this in single digits up to now, with its latest entry at 43/48 on the recall question. Prior to today’s report, that 43% was the highest yet registered in any poll for recalling Newsom. The RealClearPolitics average on the recall is +11.5 in Newsom’s favor.

In fact, this is a significant change in UC Berkeley’s tracking. Their last survey came nearly three months ago, so this might not be a great indicator for momentum, but at that time their respondents split 36/49. That’s a ten-point gain in the gap for the recallers, a very significant move — if it holds up. Emerson has always shown the recall as a tight question (38/42 in March), but we will have to see what other pollsters with wide earlier gaps find in their next round of polling.

Full disclosure: the recall effort has been helmed by an old friend from high school, Randy Economy. More disclosure: the LA Times has some good news for another of my friends, Salem Radio Network host Larry Elder. The Sage of South Central has now moved into first position among the wide field vying to replace Newsom if the recall succeeds:

Conservative talk radio host Larry Elder, who last week won a court battle to appear on the Sept. 14 recall ballot, leads in the race to replace Newsom among the dozens of candidates in the running, while support for reality television star Caitlyn Jenner remains low, the survey found. Forty percent of likely voters remain undecided on a replacement candidate, providing ample opportunity for other gubernatorial hopefuls to rise in the ranks before the Sept. 14 special election.

Even though Democratic voters far outnumber Republicans in California, the GOP’s enthusiasm over the recall promises to inflate the potency of the anti-Newsom vote in September, said Mark DiCamillo, director of the poll. Nearly 90% of Republicans expressed a high level of interest in the recall election while just 58% of Democrats and 53% of independent voters were as interested, the poll found.

Jenner might have more celebrity, but Elder will push more people to the polls. Don’t forget that once Newsom loses the recall, the replacement contest is a first-past-the-post affair. Whoever gets more votes becomes governor no matter what percentage of the vote it comprises. In a field of dozens, Larry can win the office with a low percentage of the split. And Larry’s presence on the ticket will almost certainly boost turnout among Republicans and independents in a way that Jenner won’t, which adds to the chances that the recall succeeds and that Larry takes office afterward.

For all those reasons and more, I want to believe. Larry would make an exceptional governor, if for no other reason than to contain the Democrat-controlled state legislature for a couple of years. He might not turn California red, but he’ll give the hard-progressive establishment the blues for a while. And just maybe Larry can remind Californians of their potential once they get their priorities in order.