By Michael Barba and Benjamin Schneider
Examiner staff writers
Bay Area voters helped propel Gov. Gavin Newsom to victory in California’s recall election Tuesday night, showing up in large numbers to ensure his political survival in the face of concerns that Democrats would fail to turn out.
Early results from election night showed Newsom would defeat the recall by a comfortable margin, with only 33 percent of voters supporting the effort as of press time. Recall supporters needed more than half of the vote to unseat Newsom, and replace him with one of the dozens of candidates on the same ballot.
While the final numbers were expected to change throughout the night and in the coming days, as more ballots are counted, the early results showed voters from the Bay Area’s heavily Democratic counties overwhelmingly supporting Newsom, with more than 80 percent of voters in nine counties choosing “no” on the recall.
The first set of results that came in on election night showed Newsom had raked in about 1.5 million votes against the recall from the largely Democratic region, while another 368,700 Bay Area residents voted “yes.” That meant more than a quarter of the 5.4 million votes opposing the recall statewide came from the Bay Area.
San Francisco, a Democratic haven, had the highest percentage of ‘no’ votes in the region at 88 percent as of press time, delivering about 215,000 votes to Newsom. The City also saw a turnout of 48 percent. At the other end, just under 70 percent of voters opposed the recall in Solano County, the only county in the Bay Area that isn’t majority Democratic.
The tallies reflect the large portion of ballots that were mailed in to elections officials in advance, and the numbers are likely to change as ballots cast at the polls Tuesday, still being processed in the mail or delivered on election day, are counted.
Early into the night, Newsom declared victory in the contest at a press conference. He framed it as a victory for science and the right to vote, alluding to his leading challenger, radio talk show host Larry Elder, opposing vaccine mandates and raising concerns about voter fraud.
“I’m humbled and grateful to the millions and millions of Californians who exercised their fundamental right to vote and express themselves so overwhelmingly by rejecting the division, by rejecting the cynicism, by rejecting so much of the negativity that’s defined our politics in this country,” Newsom said.
Even before the early results came in Tuesday, political experts said Newsom would need to tap into his base in the Bay Area to carry a statewide victory. Newsom was counting on a large number of votes from the region to offset low turnout — and Republican support for the recall — in other parts of California.
“This is where you need to drive up the vote,” said Ace Smith, a lead political strategist for the Newsom campaign. “Having success here in the Bay Area is how Democratic candidates have prevailed going back all the way to really the early 90s. It is the key area.”
The election was also shaped by polls this summer that showed Republicans had a real shot at unseating Newsom unless Democrats got out the vote. But that narrative changed last week when a newer poll found that Newsom had a greater chance of survival, as more Democrats became engaged in the recall.
All the concerns about Republicans gaining control of California may have paid off when it comes to energizing voters. Ahead of election night, Bay Area counties were reporting relatively strong turnout from voters for an election held on an odd date, with only one contest on the ballot.
The election was also unusual because all voters in California received a ballot in the mail that they could deliver in person or return via mail. As of Monday, most people in San Francisco had chosen to return their ballots via mail. But some did show up to polling places on election day.
At a quiet voting center in the Tenderloin, Maya Stephen was one of just eight people who had cast their ballot in person by 11:15 a.m. Stephen considered sitting this election out, as she’s planning to move away from California in November, but ultimately decided the stakes were too high.
“I’ve called this place my home for five years. I’d like it to stay with the core values I believe in,” she said. “If it’s Newsom vs. a Republican, I’m going for Newsom.”
Several other voters The Examiner spoke with on Tuesday said their fear of an Elder victory was a major motivator. At City Hall, voter David Rice called Newsom “a little hypocritical,” but said that voting to keep him in office was an easy decision. “When compared to the alternatives, there’s no question.”
Registered Democrats: 62.75%