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Two big trends explain how Gavin Newsom easily defeated the recall

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Gov. Gavin Newsom addresses a crowd in Sacramento, Calif., on Sept.14, 2021.
Gov. Gavin Newsom addresses a crowd in Sacramento, Calif., on Sept.14, 2021.Rich Pedroncelli / AP

WASHINGTON — With about 70 percent of the projected vote counted, 63.9 percent of Californians voted against recalling Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, while 36.1 percent voted for it — almost identical to Joe Biden’s 63 percent-34 percent win in the state in 2020.

So how did Newsom do it, especially compared with the successful gubernatorial recall from 2003?

One, California is much more Democratic — and less Republican — than it was 18 years ago, when voters ousted Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and replaced him with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In 2003, California had 15 million registered voters. Of those, 6.7 million of them were registered Democrats (43.7 percent) and 5.4 million were registered Republicans (35.3 percent), with the rest independent or other.

Now, California has 22 million registered voters, with 10.3 million of them Democrats (46.5 percent) and 5.3 million of them Republican (24.0 percent).

That’s right: Today there are 7 million more registered voters in California than there were back in 2003, but the number of Republicans has declined since then.

Another way to view this trend is by looking at the vote totals from just Orange County, which launched the political careers of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

Orange County Results 2002-2004

  • 2002 Governor's race: Bill Simon (R) 57.5%, Gray Davis (D) 34.7%
  • 2003 Recall: Yes 73.4%, No 26.6%
  • 2004 Presidential: George W. Bush (R) 59.7%, John Kerry 39.0%

Orange County Results 2018-2021

  • 2018 Governor's race: Newsom (D) 50.1%, John Cox (R) 49.9%
  • 2020 Presidential: Joe Biden (D) 53.5%, Donald Trump (R) 44.4%
  • 2021 Recall (so far): No 52.6%, Yes 47.4%

The second big reason that Newsom won has been the change inside the Republican Party over the last 18 years, where Donald Trump is certainly no Ronald Reagan and where Larry Elder was no Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Per the NBC News exit poll of last night’s race, 34 percent of all voters said they had a favorable view of Elder, versus 50 percent who had a negative view. (That’s compared with 55 percent in the exit poll who said they approved of Newsom’s job, versus 43 percent who disapproved.)

Over the last 30 years, successful and competitive GOP candidates (think Schwarzenegger, Pete Wilson, even Meg Whitman) supported abortion rights and came (more or less) from the moderate wing of the GOP.

That doesn’t describe Elder, who opposes abortion rights and comes from the conservative wing of the party.

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The tactical reason why Newsom won

Outside of those two macro-trends in California, there’s a tactical reason why Newsom won so easily.

He and his allies leaned heavily into masks and vaccines — especially as a way to motivate Democratic voters.

Per the exit poll, 63 percent of voters in the recall said getting the Covid vaccine is a public health responsibility, versus 34 percent who said it’s a personal choice — which almost exactly matches the No-Yes margin last night.

And on masks, 70 percent of voters said they supported California requiring children to wear masks in school, and they voted against the recall by an 80 percent-to-20 percent margin, according to the exit poll.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

$276 million: The cost of the California recall to the state, per a mid-summer estimate from the California Department of Finance.

$58.6 million: The amount spent on just television, radio and digital advertising alone by the recall candidates (and the secretary of state’s office), per AdImpact.

1,719,900: The number of valid signatures for the petition to recall Newsom (the threshold was 1,495,709).

9,137,428: The number of recall ballots counted as of Wednesday morning.

63 percent: The portion of California recall voters who, per exit polling, said they believe getting the coronavirus vaccine is a public health responsibility over a personal choice.

63.9 percent: The share of California voters who voted no on the recall, as of Wednesday morning.

More than 100,000: The number of Texans without power after Tropical Storm Nicholas.

41,504,840: The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 155,286 more since yesterday morning.)

668,139: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 2,175 more since yesterday morning.)

1 in 500: The approximate number of people in America who have died of Covid.

381,453,265: The number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S., per the CDC. (That’s 621,540 more since yesterday morning.)

54 percent: The share of all Americans who are fully vaccinated, per the CDC.

65.1 percent: The share of all U.S. adults at least 18 years of age who are fully vaccinated, per CDC.

Milley’s McChrystal moment?

A new excerpt from the forthcoming book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa reveals that Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley told China he’d warn the country if then-President Trump tried to attack it in his final days in office.

Per NBC News, “The book said Milley received intelligence that Chinese officials believed the U.S. was getting ready to attack them. To defuse tensions, Milley called the head of China's military, Gen. Li Zuocheng, and told him the ‘American government is stable’ and ‘we are not going to attack.’”

We certainly need to hear more from Milley’s side of things. But the way this reads, it sure seems like Milley acted outside the chain of command.

And if you wonder if that’s a fireable offense, just ask Stanley McChrystal.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Hispanics accounted for over half of the nation’s population growth in the last decade. NBC has a look at the new Latino landscape.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “Republicans are united in opposition to raising the debt ceiling.”

The Wall Street Journal is publishing its investigation into Facebook, so far looking at how the company deals with high-profile users and how its own studies show Instagram’s negative effects on young women.

Most new American immigrants will have to be vaccinated for Covid.

City Councilors Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George appear likely to advance out of Tuesday’s preliminary Boston mayoral race.

Nonprofit executive Justin Bibb and Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley are moving on in the city’s mayoral race, with former Rep. Dennis Kucinich falling short in his bid.