LONG BEACH, Calif. — President Joe Biden headlined an ebullient rally Monday night against recalling California Gov. Gavin Newsom that amplified the governor’s casting of the campaign as part of a national struggle.
Speaking on the day before voting concludes, Biden described the recall race as an extension of the 2020 presidential contest. He repeatedly said a Newsom victory would “send a message” to the nation and cast Republican frontrunner Larry Elder as “the closest thing to a Trump clone that I’ve seen in your state,” warning Elder would undermine women’s rights, erode labor protections and blunt California’s battle against climate change.
“The eyes of the nation are on California because the decision you’re about to make isn’t just going to have a huge impact on California, it’s going to reverberate around the nation,” Biden said.
While 24 hours of voting remain, the event felt like an early victory speech delivered to a few hundred people who filled a grass lawn at Long Beach City College and chanted “Vote no!” throughout the night. Recent polls have shown Newsom extending his lead well into double-digit percentage points, and Democrats are feeling supremely confident after fearing the race was a dead heat several weeks ago. Attendees greeted Biden with chants of “Joe! Joe! Joe!”
“There’s no scenario where we lose,” Newsom strategist Sean Clegg told reporters before the event.
The recall afforded Biden an opportunity to attach himself to a Democratic win after watching his own approval ratings sharply decline when the Taliban quickly seized control of Afghanistan and 13 American troops were killed in an Islamic State attack. Like Newsom has over the past several months, Biden turned his attention to his divisive predecessor, riling up Democrats in a blue state where Trump is deeply unpopular.
“You either keep Gavin Newsom as your governor or you’ll get Donald Trump,” Biden added, saying that repudiating the recall would ensure “Trump’s dark, destructive, divisive politics never finds a place in California.”
Newsom in the final weeks has posed the recall as a choice between California’s stringent coronavirus mandates, which parallel Biden’s orders requiring vaccinations for public employees, and a rollback of Covid-19 rules similar to what red states have done. Biden doubled down on that contrast, comparing Newsom to Republicans who have sought to “block or undermine the life-saving mandates we’ve proposed.”
“Voting ‘no’ will be protecting California from Trump Republicans trying to block us from beating this pandemic,” Biden said. “We don’t need politics in this battle against Covid,” he added. “We need science. We need courage. We need leadership. We need Gavin Newsom.”
Biden’s campaign closer role capped Newsom’s efforts to nationalize the race. The governor has long framed the election as a contest between California’s progressive vision and resurgent Trumpism, predicting a loss would undercut Biden’s agenda and hurt Democrats in the 2022 midterm elections.
“We may have defeated Donald Trump but we have not defeated Trumpism. Trumpism is still on the ballot in California,” Newsom said in a stakes-setting line that drew raucous applause.
To that end, Newsom has enlisted several Democratic luminaries to try and galvanize voters. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former President Barack Obama have all starred in campaign spots. Vice President Kamala Harris campaigned with Newsom in the San Francisco Bay Area last week.
Before Biden spoke, Newsom marshaled a phalanx of prominent supporters that included organized labor leaders, Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison, Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and most of California’s statewide elected officials. The show of force underscored California’s heavily Democratic makeup.
“We’re going to send a message. We’re going to resoundingly defeat this recall,” state Controller Betty Yee said.
Republicans excoriated Biden for taking time out of his presidential duties to buoy Newsom, arguing he was neglecting more important tasks — although Biden used his trip out west to survey wildfire damage and response in Idaho and still-smoldering northern California.
“Joe Biden has abandoned the crisis in Afghanistan and the Americans stranded there, imposed his most authoritarian COVID-19 mandate yet and walked away from the wreckage, and ignored the ongoing crisis taking place at our southern border,” RNC spokesperson Hallie Balch said in a statement. “It’s fitting Biden would rather campaign for Governor Newsom than solve his multiple crises.”
While the Newsom campaign was dogged by concerns about a turnout gap as Republican enthusiasm eclipses Democratic interest, data from the roughly eight million mail ballots already returned show Democrats have voted in greater numbers than their share of the electorate. And Newsom is feeling good, as a Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll last week showed Democrats and independents far more engaged than they were a month ago.
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