Californians viewing the Olympics may have seen a new ad starring Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) opposing the recall of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom. There's nothing new or unexpected about the content of the advertisement. She accuses Republicans of "abusing" the recall process (they did not—they collected more than the required number of citizen signatures to force the vote under state law) and complains about the cost of the recall vote for Californian taxpayers (who, again, signed the petition).
What's interesting about the latest "Stop the Republican Recall" ad is not what it says but what it leaves out. Here's the 30-second ad:
Warren explains how California voters will all be sent a recall mail-in ballot for the election scheduled on September 14, and encourages the viewer to vote "no" on the recall.
But there are two questions on the recall ballot. This advertisement only addresses the first, which asks the voter if he or she wants to recall Newsom. Regardless of whether the voter chooses to recall Newsom, that voter also has every right to vote for a successor, and that vote counts as well. Just because you support Newsom remaining in office doesn't mean you don't also get to help choose his replacement if the recall vote succeeds.
This advertisement starring Warren absolutely fails to mention that second vote at all, creating a misleading and potentially self-destructive impression that only the first question matters if you support Newsom. The potential result is that if Democratic voters don't grasp the importance of also answering the second question, they won't get a say in who replaces Newsom if he gets voted out.
There's a new poll out today by Emerson College showing the recall race tightening up and the vote almost evenly split between whether to keep or dump Newsom. This is the second poll in two weeks showing previously undecided voters starting to turn against the governor. Homelessness, housing, COVID-19, crime, and the environment are the top issues for California voters.
What seems to be happening is that Newsom's supporters are remaining constant (his approval rating has barely moved from 49 percent to 48 percent) but those who have concerns about California's trajectory are increasingly making their presence known in polling.
The state's Democratic Party may have decided against running an officially supported candidate in the recall in case Newsom, but there are, in fact, nine self-described Democrats among the 46 candidates who qualified for the September ballot.
None of them are elected officials or notable California Democratic establishment leaders. The only one that even reaches 1 percent support in the Emerson poll is Kevin Paffrath, a real estate broker with a significant YouTube presence. If Newsom is recalled, current polling shows one of the Republican candidates like radio talk show host Larry Elder as the likely successor.
But the plurality of the voters in these last two polls are undecided on the replacement candidate. The Emerson poll has 40 percent undecided on who to replace Newsom. As the polls tighten up, this should make it doubly clear that while solidarity behind Newsom may have been desirable for the Democratic establishment both in California and the national party, the failure to at least consider the possibility that Democratic voters might need an alternate choice may end up being a problem.
This is similar to the results of California's ballot initiatives, where the Democratic establishment rallied behind a bunch of ballot initiative positions that were subsequently rejected by the state's voters. Voters supported Proposition 22, which excluded ride-sharing and delivery services from the state's oppressive regulations against freelance employees, in defiance of the state's Democratic Party and unions. Voters rejected an attempt to reinstate racial preferences at state colleges and an attempt to undermine the property tax caps of Proposition 13, again defying Democratic Party positions.
California isn't becoming more conservative or Republican; the Republican Party's membership has been declining in California for years. There is still, nevertheless, a significant disconnect between what state Democratic Party operatives think voters want and what voters actually want. The sin of omission in the Warren ad, which may keep voters from realizing they can both support Newsom and still vote for an alternative, feels like yet another example of this disconnect.