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Biden Encouraged Voters To Turn Out For Newsom In Calif. Recall Election

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Speaking of being in California, people here have until 8 p.m. tonight local time to vote yes or no on recalling California Gov. Gavin Newsom. It's the first time in almost two decades that voters in the state have been asked to decide whether to remove their governor. This is a recall election that's been getting a lot of national attention.

Now with us is Ben Christopher from CalMatters, a state news outlet that's part of a collaboration between California public radio stations and NPR. Ben, that national attention evident last night when President Biden traveled here to try and help Newsom get out the vote - what was his message?

BEN CHRISTOPHER, BYLINE: Yeah. I think the thrust of the president's message was less about praising Gov. Newsom - although there was plenty of that - but it was more about warning what would happen if the governor is replaced by a Republican. And honestly, that's very much in line with what the governor and his campaign have been saying for months now. They've been framing the recall as this nakedly partisan effort and tying it specifically to the policies of former President Trump.

And so we've kind of had this narrative back and forth, a narrative tug of war, with supporters of the recall framing it as a referendum on the governor's job performance, on the pandemic and on some of the other chronic issues that face the state - the cost of living, wildfire, homelessness and so forth. Whereas Governor Newsom and the no campaign, for them, it all comes down to the campaign slogan, which is stop the Republican recall. And so sure enough, when President Biden was here in Long Beach yesterday at a rally - very much hitting on that same theme - and in fact, he called the leading replacement candidate in this race, Larry Elder, quote, "the clone of Donald Trump" - so really hitting on that theme.

MARTINEZ: Yeah. And heading into what today is the final day of voting, how is the governor and his rivals - how are they polling?

CHRISTOPHER: Yeah. At this point, the governor is looking pretty secure in his job. So just to back up for a second - because the recall process here is a little bit wonky - there are two questions on the ballot. The first is, do you support the recall? And polls put the no vote there leading by anywhere between 10 and as - in some, more than 20 percentage points - so looking pretty good for the governor.

The second question is, if the recall is successful, who should replace Gov. Newsom? And on that question, there's really no doubt. Larry Elder is at least 10 points ahead of any other candidate in basically every poll. He's a longtime conservative, sort of libertarian-leaning talk radio show host - very controversial, kind of a bombastic style, holds views that are pretty far outside the mainstream in California. So I think that's really freaked out a lot of Democrats. And so it's no coincidence that the president name-checked him in last night's speech.

MARTINEZ: And Ben, is - of the candidates that are vying to replace Gavin Newsom, is it fair to say that Elder is one that's maybe later to the game than the others?

CHRISTOPHER: Yeah. He got into the very last minute. In fact, he had to petition the court to allow him onto the ballot. But as soon as he got in, because he has been a radio show host for so long, because he is very controversial, you know, has this sort of very - he's a provocateur in some ways - he was able to garner a lot of the support of the GOP's very - GOP base very quickly, relegating some of the more traditional candidates, like the former mayor of San Diego, Kevin Faulconer, to the single digits in the polls. At the same time, I think, as he's been the sort of get out the vote effort for his own supporters, he's also had the same effect for Democrats, I think, because of these very controversial views he has on - whether it's minimum wage or abortion rights or vaccine and mask requirements.

MARTINEZ: Now one more thing, Ben - whatever the results turn out to be, a lot of Democrats in California are upset about how easy it is to trigger a recall here. Is there any movement to change that going forward?

CHRISTOPHER: Oh, for sure - there's definitely a conversation that the Democrats in particular have been having in the state - but all year and maybe even going back before that because recalls are a constant feature, not just at the gubernatorial level, but at the local and legislative level here in California. You know, it's worth saying, 19 states have some option to recall a sitting governor, but none make it quite as easy as California does. So there is some talk about reforming that - also reforming the structure of the recall election itself so that it would require that a replacement candidate - to get a majority of the vote, which is not required now. But any changes to the state constitution have to be approved by a popular vote. So that change would have to wait until another election.

MARTINEZ: That's Ben Christopher with CalMatters. Ben, thanks.

CHRISTOPHER: Hey, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.