Recalls are thought to be a referendum on the incumbent. In today’s politics, it isn’t that difficult to turn every election into a choice, a stark one based on party allegiance. Persuasion used to be thought of as winning voters over to a candidate’s positions on issues and leadership qualities. There’s still some of that, but the Newsom camp concluded that persuasion now is as much about convincing people to vote. It paid off.
But if most politics are national, is the California recall a harbinger of the Democrats’ strategy to avoid crippling losses in next year’s midterm elections? That’s a different question. There are some strategies that no doubt will be exported, but there are limits to what can be translated from deep-blue California to other parts of the country, or from the oddities of a recall election to a more traditional midterm campaign season.
There’s been much focus on Newsom’s full-throated advocacy of stricter requirements for vaccinations and mask-wearing to combat the spread of the highly contagious delta variant. What he did echoes the direction Biden has taken of late, with his call for businesses with more than 100 employees to require their workers to be vaccinated or submit to regular testing. The growing divide between people who have been vaccinated and those who haven’t sets up a political fault line that many Democrats believe can be exploited next year, both to mobilize their voters and to pick off some Republicans who share frustrations with those who remain hesitant to get vaccinated.