By Maeve Reston, CNN
California Gov. Gavin Newsom has been doing everything he can to persuade women to vote “no” on the Republican effort to oust him in Tuesday’s recall election, and in Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday he got his most high-profile surrogate to date to help deliver that message.
The former California senator, who remains enormously popular among Democratic women and progressive voters of color, argued that the national consequences of this election could be huge if Newsom is replaced by a Republican.
“You have to understand that this recall campaign is about California, and it’s about a whole lot more,” Harris said, trying to nationalize the race by voicing her outrage about the conservative agenda, particularly Texas’ restrictive abortion law that went into effect last week.
In her biggest political event since she and President Joe Biden won the 2020 election, Wednesday’s rally also gave the vice president the chance to test-drive a midterm election message for the White House, following weeks of tumult for the administration and some early criticism of her performance.
She repeatedly denounced the efforts of GOP-controlled legislatures curtailing voting and abortion rights, pointing to “what’s happening in Texas, what’s happening in Georgia, what’s happening around our country with these policies that are attacking women’s rights, reproductive rights and voting rights, workers’ rights. They think if they can win in California, they can do this anywhere.”
For Newsom, this race is all about turnout, not persuasion, and he has long had a strong advantage among women. With Harris’ help Wednesday, his team is trying to get Democratic women to return their ballots in droves to maintain the strong advantage they are already seeing in the partisan registration of the more than 6.4 million pre-Election Day ballots cast so far.
In the face of concerns about Democratic apathy, nationalizing the race has been a key Newsom strategy, with Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota carrying that message when they campaigned with him last weekend.
Conservative talk radio host Larry Elder, the leading GOP candidate to replace him, has given Newsom a distinct foil in making that nationalized argument. The hope among Newsom allies is that registered Democratic voters, who outnumber GOP voters by nearly 2 to 1 in the state, will be turned off by Elder’s positions and will return their ballots, making up for the enthusiasm advantage Republicans have enjoyed in this contest.
Newsom delved into Elder’s past derogatory comments about women on Wednesday, including his denial that there is a glass ceiling — and said Harris would be surprised to hear those views: “He doesn’t believe there’s a glass ceiling — tell that to Kamala Harris, who did shatter the glass ceiling for vice president,” Newsom said.
The governor asked the crowd to imagine what would have happened when Harris vacated her US Senate seat to join the Biden administration — a nod to the power he had, as governor, to replace her with another Democrat in the Senate.
“What kind of judges would Larry Elder appoint as Governor of California? Who would he have appointed 10 months ago to replace Kamala Harris when she became vice president? What would that have done in Washington DC today? Would there have been (a) stimulus? Would there be Majority Leader Chuck Schumer? Think of the consequences, California. That’s what’s at stake.”
In the final days of the campaign, Newsom is driving the message that this is “a life or death” choice because of the spread of the Delta variant and Elder’s opposition to vaccine and mask mandates. Advisers to Newsom argue that contrast has dramatically changed the contours of the race, because most Californians agree with Newsom about the need for vaccine and mask mandates in certain situations.
Alluding to Elder’s opposition to such mandates, Newsom said on Wednesday that Elder would “walk us off that same Covid cliff as Texas, and Florida, Tennessee and Alabama and Georgia.” He suggested that Elder would sign an executive order eliminating vaccine verification for health care workers and mask-wearing for kids in public schools. (Elder said in an interview with CNN last week that he would not have power over the mask rules of local school districts).
“This election is a choice about life and death. It’s true California has among the lowest case rates in America, and among the highest vaccination rates in America. Because we believe in science. We believe in public health,” Newsom said. “That is on the ballot in the next week.”
Newsom advisers think that message is working. Democrats, who might have otherwise tossed their ballots in the trash ahead of an odd-year election with the resurgence of the pandemic and wildfires coursing across the state, have been alarmed by Elder’s opposition to mask and vaccine mandates, his support for former President Donald Trump and his past comments about immigration, LGBTQ rights and racism.
Right now — as a snapshot in time — Newsom’s advisers say that turnout could be on pace to match a presidential election if voters keep returning ballots at the current pace. That could be a boon for Newsom in a state where President Joe Biden beat Trump by almost 30 points. But Newsom’s advisers are still bracing for huge Election Day turnout among Republicans — and that has kept the race unpredictable.
So far, about 53% about of the ballots cast before Election Day have come from registered Democrats and 25% from registered Republicans, according to the latest data from Political Data Inc., a firm that does work for Democrats, nonpartisan and progressive groups.
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Jasmine Wright contributed to this story.