San Francisco voters are not used to swaying elections. Just think of last year’s presidential race.
But the election to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom is not a typical election. Scheduled for Sept. 14, it’s ripe for low turnout at an off-time, off-year, and has just two questions on it: Should the governor be recalled? And if yes, who do you want to replace him with?
Where the deep blue pockets are bountiful, that answer is likely to be a resounding “no.” So, instead of local Democratic Party officials tapping volunteers to reach voters in different counties and states, they’re calling on the home base. Texting and tabling started a couple months ago and weekly phone banking commenced last weekend.
“This is a home turf battle right now,” said Peter Gallotta, vice chair of partnerships for the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee. “We need every vote in San Francisco and the Bay Area. In this case, San Francisco can absolutely make a difference. The challenge has been getting people to care about this election.”
If they don’t, the results are grim for Democrats. A new poll released Tuesday by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies and the Los Angeles Times shows that 47 percent of likely voters would vote to recall Newsom and 50 percent wouldn’t. Among registered voters in the state, just 36 percent favor the recall and 51 percent want to keep Newsom as California governor.
That’s because Republicans are showing far more interest in voting than Democrats or no party preference voters, who may assume that Newsom will beat back the challenge, the poll said. No prominent Democrat is on the ballot, leaving a slate of Republicans as the replacement should the recall go through. Republicans have not won a statewide seat since 2006, when Arnold Schwarzenegger was re-elected. He became governor in 2003 after the recall of Gray Davis.
“It already shows an intensity that I’ve never seen before in the voters interested in voting them out,” said Anne Hyde Dunsmore, campaign manager for Rescue California, a political committee supporting the recall of Newsom. “We’re trending up and he’s trending down and that’s kind of where you want to be at this point. By my count, we ought to have it in the bag in three weeks.”
But in the Bay Area, enthusiasm for Newsom is higher among likely voters. About 62 percent of registered voters said they would vote no in order to keep Newsom and 24 percent said they would vote yes to remove him. Among likely voters, 66 percent favored retaining Newsom and 31 percent favored the recall.
Local party officials like Gallotta are calling on people to volunteer to phone bank, now held every Saturday at Manny’s venue in the Mission District, or at least start talking about it with urgency to family and friends to keep the election on peoples’ minds.
Mail ballots will be sent out on Aug. 16. If not received by Aug. 23, the Department of Elections recommends contacting the office for a new ballot.
People reached so far are overwhelmingly against the recall, said Susan Pfeifer, a San Francisco resident and delegate to the California Democratic Party.
“I think there’s an overwhelming majority against it, but they have to be reminded of it,” Pfeifer said. “When it’s a standalone election like this people stand and shrug and say I’m not needed to vote. We cannot take anything for granted if people are against it and they stay home or don’t mail the ballot.”
Prior to 2003, the last major recall before San Franciscans was the 1983 campaign to remove then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein. Just as it is now, motivation for a special election was the biggest challenge, said Fred Ross Jr., who worked on the field campaign against the recall.
They rallied people to vote by tabling behind ironing boards, more accessible than sitting passively, and having people host parties to spread the word through personal networks.
“Once we convinced them it was a threat they said, ‘OK, what can we do about it, how can we make a difference?’” Ross said. “It’s the same crowd doing it. They’ll be the winners if we don’t do anything about it.”
While a contingent of progressives in San Francisco may be disappointed in some of Newsom’s policies, like the ever-uncertain eviction moratorium lacking transparent negotiations, they aren’t necessarily challenging his leadership — yet. Newsom must run again for re-election in November 2022, should he survive the recall.
“I know there are people on the more progressive side who aren’t 100 percent thrilled with everything our governor is doing,” said Honey Mahogany, San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee chair. “Those conversations are healthy and should continue.”
“I do think it’ll impact his reelection campaign,” Mahogany added, borrowing a heavily-used phrase of Newsom’s. “He will have to really think about how to follow through on all his promises and really meet the moment.”