In less than 48 hours, we’ll most likely know who is going to be running the nation’s most populous state next year.
In case you need a refresher: On Tuesday evening, polls close in the election that asks Californians whether Gov. Gavin Newsom should be removed from office and, if so, who should replace him. If Newsom is recalled, the person who takes his seat would serve the remainder of his term, set to end in January 2023.
It probably goes without saying, but this election is a big deal.
Newsom’s possible ouster is only the fourth recall of a governor to make the ballot in U.S. history. It has the potential to put a Republican at the helm of a heavily Democratic state that hasn’t elected a Republican governor since 2006. And the election, as I’m sure you haven’t forgotten, comes as our state is grappling with a pandemic, historic drought, housing crisis and much more.
Here’s where things stand on election eve:
Newsom’s lead in the polls appears to be growing
For Newsom to keep his job, more than half of voters must mark “no” on the question of whether he should be recalled from office.
As of Sunday evening, a polling average compiled by FiveThirtyEight showed 56% of Californians opposing the recall and 42% supporting it. An average compiled by RealClearPolitics was almost identical.
Newsom’s significant lead may be somewhat surprising if you remember how close the race appeared just a few months ago.
In July, a poll by The Los Angeles Times and the University of California, Berkeley, found a near 50-50 split on the recall among likely voters. When that same group released new data Friday, 60% of likely voters opposed recalling Newsom, more than 21 percentage points higher than the fraction that wanted to oust him.
How Newsom probably got ahead
So what changed?
Democrats started paying attention. Before ballots arrived in mailboxes last month and polling began to suggest that Newsom might actually lose his job, many liberals probably assumed that the election was a long shot and that they could skip voting.
Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in California nearly 2-1, so the biggest threat to Newsom is Democrats not turning out to vote in big enough numbers to counteract Republican enthusiasm for the ouster.
But over the past two months, Newsom has been hammering home the idea that he is all that stands between Californians and Trumpism. The governor’s message is that everything that terrified California liberals about the last president is on the ballot, from vaccine resistance to climate denial.
His argument has been aided by the emergence of conservative talk radio host Larry Elder, who once called the election of Donald Trump “divine intervention,” as the front-runner vying to take his job.
Newsom has also benefited from more than $70 million in campaign contributions, much of it collected in July and August, which has allowed him to out-advertise his opponents in recent weeks.
What we know about the returns so far
In this election, as with last year’s, all of the state’s 22 million-plus registered voters were sent mail-in ballots.
So although the polls don’t close until Tuesday, 35% of registered voters already cast their ballots as of Sunday evening, according to an election tracker from Political Data Inc., a nonpartisan supplier of voter information.
Nearly 4.1 million registered Democrats have mailed in their ballots, compared with 1.9 million Republicans and 1.8 million independents, the data shows.
It’s unclear how much those figures will shift in the coming days. There are still ballots in the mail, and many Republicans may wait to vote in person.
Some political experts predict that turnout may surpass 50% of registered voters, roughly double what’s typically expected for a special election.
Paul Mitchell, vice president at Political Data Inc., told The New York Times that if 60% of Californians cast their ballots, “it’s almost mathematically impossible for Newsom to lose.”
The biggest question, for both sides then, is whether we’ll cross that threshold.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.