Gavin Newsom Survived as Larry Elder Peaked Too Early

California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks at an event in Delano, Calif., March 31, 2021; Larry Elder at the 2016 FreedomFest in Las Vegas, Nev. (Mandel Ngan/Reuters, Gage Skidmore)

Governor Gavin Newsom has easily survived the recall election, no doubt helped considerably by the fact that Larry Elder peaked too early.

In an overwhelmingly Democratic state, there was no chance that Elder could have ever won a head-to-head race against Newsom — even if he did everything perfectly. Essentially, winning would have required the political equivalent of a royal flush. 

In the royal-flush scenario, Democrats would have spent most of the summer confident that Newsom was going to win easily, remaining uninterested in the race. Meanwhile, there would have been a jumble of alternative candidates with no real favorite. Lulled to sleep, Democratic voters wouldn’t have turned out in large numbers. And Elder would have floated under the radar in August and consolidated support in the final stretch.

Instead, the way things played out is that in August, the recall polls tightened into a statistical tie, providing a real chance that Newsom would be thrown out. Around the same time, Elder became the clear favorite in polls to replace him. Suddenly, a conservative talk-radio-show host had a plausible path to becoming governor of a deep blue state. This all happened with weeks left in the race. That was plenty of time for Newsom to turn the race from a referendum on him, to a more conventional governor’s race between him and Elder. And it allowed the state’s overwhelmingly liberal media to scare Democratic voters to the polls by running around the clock coverage attacking Elder. That was the sort of race that Elder had no chance of winning. 

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Unfortunately for the people of California, that means they are stuck with Newsom.

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