President Biden implored Californians to keep Democrat Gavin Newsom as their governor Monday night, warning attendees of a Long Beach rally that a “Trump clone” in the form of longtime radio talk show host Larry Elder could replace him.
“The eyes of the nation are on California because the decision you’re going to make isn’t just going to have a huge impact on California, it’s going to reverberate around the nation, and quite frankly — not a joke — around the world,” Biden said in his final pitch ahead of Tuesday’s recall vote, which could see Newsom thrown out of office fewer than three years after winning the governorship with nearly 62 percent of the vote.
Biden did not mention Elder by name during his remarks, which lasted approximately 15 minutes and were punctuated by coughing fits so intense and frequent that at one point the president apologized as he took a swig of water.
But, Biden did call out past statements by Elder — including one the candidate made last month opposing a state minimum wage — and described the Republican as, “the closest thing to a Trump clone that I’ve ever seen in your state.”
“You either keep Gavin Newsom as your governor or you’ll get Donald Trump,” Biden said. “It’s not a joke. A Republican governor blocking progress on COVID-19 who is also anti-woman, anti-worker, a climate denier, who doesn’t believe in choice. The choice should be absolutely clear.”
Biden also defended Gavin Newsom’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic — the very issue that sent the recall campaign into overdrive late last year — and contrasted him with Republican governors who have opposed vaccine and mask mandates.
“Voting no will be protecting California from Trump Republicans trying to block us from beating this pandemic,” the president said. “On COVID-19, Gavin Newsom has had the courage to lead, to stand up for science … he’s been one of the leading governors in the nation, protecting people and vaccinating his state.”
Meanwhile, Biden said, “there are certain Republican governors like the governor of Mississippi [Tate Reeves] who are talking to me about being dictatorial about demanding that people get vaccinated or tested. People are doing everything they can to block or undermine the lifesaving mandates we proposed. Putting their people at risk, putting their children at risk, putting their states at risk.”
“For these Republican governors, it isn’t about public health, it’s about politics,” the president said later in his remarks. “Look folks, we don’t need politics in this battle against COVID. We need science, we need courage, we need leadership, we need Gavin Newsom.”
The petition drive launched by amateur Republican organizers in early 2020 initially focused on issues like crime and homelessness. However, the tenor of the campaign changed after Newsom was photographed in November attending a maskless dinner with 11 others at the exclusive French Laundry eatery in Napa County this past November, despite telling Californians to avoid gatherings of more than three households.
Support for the recall surged in the following months, and organizers of the recall drive achieved the required 1,495,709 signatures days before a March deadline to get the question on the ballot this year.
Elder is just one of 46 candidates on the ballot to replace Newsom if a majority of voters say “yes” to the recall question. Other GOP contenders include former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, 2018 gubernatorial candidate John Cox, state Assemblyman Kevin Kiley and Olympic decathlon champion-turned-reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner, who would be the first transgender governor in America should she pull off a shocking upset.
However, Democrats have sought to portray Elder — the self-described “Sage of South Central” — as the avatar of the recall effort, which they characterize as a desperate bid by Republicans to gain a measure of power in a state where Democrats hold supermajorities in both legislative chambers as well as all eight statewide elected offices.
Polls showing a close vote on the recall question last month spooked California Democrats and caught the attention of the White House.
Vice President Kamala Harris, a Bay Area native like Newsom, joined the governor for a rally last week while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) mobilized her considerable political operation to keep her fellow San Francisco Democrat in office. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) have also made appearances on Newsom’s behalf in recent days.
Their efforts seem to be paying off. An average of polls tracked by the website FiveThirtyEight showed support for keeping Newsom in office to be nearly 16 percentage points higher than support for removing him as of Monday night. By contrast, the polling average a month ago showed a statistical tie on the recall question.