Many Californians don’t know there’s a recall — that’s not good for Newsom

What was once seen as a longshot by Republicans is gaining steam

The light was fading on what had been a breezy 101-degree afternoon by the time the two women with clipboards approached Ashley Reyes, who sat watching her son and his cousins play in her gated driveway.

Had she heard, the women wondered, about the election coming up on Sept. 14?

“No,” Reyes replied, a look of puzzled curiosity crossing her face. What election?

I saw this scene and many similar ones play out this month when I tagged along with Karen Diaz, 27, and Tanairy Guzman Reyes, 22, as they knocked on doors in Palmdale, a city north of Los Angeles. They were hoping to bolster support for Gov. Gavin Newsom as he faces an attempt to recall him from office.

Voters, who by now should have gotten their ballots by mail, will be asked two questions: Should Newsom be recalled from office? And if so, who should replace him?

The recall was once a long shot initiated by Republicans who disliked the governor’s positions on issues like the death penalty and immigration. But the effort gained steam during the coronavirus pandemic, as conservative Californians bridled at business restrictions and mask mandates.

As my colleague Shawn Hubler and I recently wrote, Democratic voters vastly outnumber Republicans in California, but experts say Newsom could be stymied by ambivalence and a lack of awareness about the election, particularly among those most likely to support him.

That has progressive groups, including the state and national Democratic parties, working to sound the alarm: Newsom could be replaced by a Republican if Democrats don’t cast their ballots.

For many of the state’s Latino voters, the fear is acute that Newsom’s successor might roll back rights for undocumented immigrants or remove restrictions that protect essential workers, experts told me.

“This election is too important to sit out,” said Diaz, who is the electoral field manager for the immigrant advocacy group CHIRLA Action Fund, based in Los Angeles.

We trudged up and down the sun-bleached streets of the neighborhood where Diaz grew up — her “home turf,” she said. She knew that many of the voters would be hearing from a political campaign for the first time.

Her colleague, Guzman Reyes, who grew up in neighboring Lancaster, said she wasn’t initially aware of the recall election, but when she found out Newsom could be removed, she wanted to alert community.

“A lot of people don’t vote in special elections,” she said. “And it’s coming out of nowhere, really.”

While experts initially predicted the election would be in November, Newsom’s allies moved to hold the vote earlier, allowing the governor to capitalize on optimism that we were finally leaving the pandemic behind. But as the delta variant rages, that plan could backfire, experts say.

So, Diaz and Guzman Reyes knocked on door after door, approaching people who were washing their cars or tidying their garages.

Some of the residents, like Reyes, pledged to cast their votes for Newsom after speaking with the canvassers. One woman said her voice didn’t matter.

A few, though, already had heard about the election.

Javier Rivera, 49, said he would vote to keep Newsom, who he said had handled a difficult situation well. He sees the governor as a staunch opponent of the former president.

“I would have voted for Daffy Duck if he was against Trump,” he said.

But Rivera said he was concerned: “For whatever reason, it feels like most of the noise is coming from Republicans.”

Edgar Robleto, 62, who spoke with Diaz and Guzman Reyes through a metal screen door, said he wanted Newsom “gone.” Pandemic restrictions, he said, were “overboard,” and he’d lost work as a bus operator.

“My credit cards are to the top,” he told me.

But Robleto said he didn’t know whom he’d vote for to replace the governor. He said he would find information on Facebook and YouTube, and wait to hear from leaders of his church.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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