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California's recall election results reject the GOP's Covid misinfo drive

Republicans hoped to ride a wave of coronavirus-related outrage into power. Those hopes were crushed Tuesday night.

Tuesday’s recall election undoubtedly caused a scare for California Gov. Gavin Newsom and fellow Democrats across the country, who watched the nation’s largest economy and most populous state nearly fall into Republican control at a time when conservatives are rejecting science and democracy outright.

That scare is prompting some in California to consider changes to the state’s complex, direct-democracy recall process, which gave rise to Tuesday’s recall. But in the end, Newsom retained the governorship, with initial reports showing at least 64 percent of voters rejecting his removal from office.

California Governor Gavin Newsom makes an appearance after the polls close on the recall election, at the California Democratic Party headquarters in Sacramento, California. on Sep. 14, 2021.Fred Greaves / Reuters; MSNBC

The petition to recall Newsom was circulated in February 2020, before the governor imposed a state of emergency due to coronavirus. As a result, the original recall petition makes no mention of coronavirus whatsoever.

But conservatives in California thought Newsom’s public health measures — including mask requirements — would rile up voters enough to install a Republican in his place. By Tuesday night, it was clear the conservative uprising they hoped for wasn’t going to materialize, and the reason for that was clear as well.

Every one of the Republican challengers who tried to oust Newsom opposed mask and vaccine mandates of any kind. And several — including the Republican front-runner in the polls, Larry Elder — promised to institute a ban on mask and vaccine mandates if elected. The data shows Republicans were sorely mistaken in believing Californians shared their skepticism over public health measures. An NBC News exit poll found that 70 percent of voters in Tuesday’s recall support Newsom’s mandate requiring students to wear masks in schools. Sixty-three percent said getting vaccinated against the coronavirus is more a “public health responsibility” than a “personal choice."

Republicans in the state banked on conspiracy theories and misinformation earning them the keys to the governor’s mansion.

Newsom, who centered the pandemic in his bid to stay in office, focused on it again in his victory speech.

​​“We said yes to science. We said yes to vaccines. We said yes to ending this pandemic,” Newsom said Tuesday from Democratic Party headquarters in Sacramento.

The exit poll numbers reflect data from recent months, finding that Californians are growing exhausted with Republican opposition to public health measures. In fact, a CBS poll from last month found 67 percent of Californians support a vaccine mandate for businesses. The poll found 67 percent of Californians who thought the state’s latest spike in Covid cases was preventable also thought more vaccinations could have curbed the spread of the virus earlier in the pandemic. Sixty-eight percent of that same group believed more masking and social distancing would have curbed the spread.

Overwhelmingly, Californians favor Covid-conscious health care policy. Republicans in the state banked on conspiracy theories and misinformation earning them the keys to the governor’s mansion, but Tuesday’s recall was a sign the door is still closed.

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