Current time in California: Sept. 14, 5:56 p.m.
The recall shows how inescapable Donald Trump remains in American politics. Gov. Gavin Newsom actively tried to rally Democrats by warning about Trumpism. And Republicans hewed closely to Trump’s top issue, raising baseless alarms about a rigged election and voter fraud.
Californians across the state went to the polls in Tuesday’s recall election. Locations across the state will remain open for voters until 8 p.m. local time.
Reporting from Sacramento
Polls haven’t even closed and 43 percent of California’s huge electorate has already voted. A big reason is — wait for it — the pandemic, which led to all of the state’s 22 million or so active and registered voters being mailed ballots. A bill to make the system permanent is now on the governor’s desk.
Reporting from Orange County
None of the candidates seem to want to be on the record supporting the de facto ending of single-family zoning. Kevin Faulconer, a Republican who is positioning himself as a kind of moderate alternative to Larry Elder, passed similar policies as mayor of San Diego but said he didn’t support that particular bill.
PALO ALTO, Calif. — At Palo Alto’s Cubberley Community Center, so many people came to vote in person on Election Day that the volunteers working the center had to add four additional poll workers.
“We’ve been working our butts off,” said Peggy Keep, a poll worker, sinking into a red-and-gray lawn chair to eat her first meal of the day at 3:30 p.m.
One of the over 550 voters who showed up was Chris Mo, a recent graduate of nearby Henry M. Gunn High School. He turned 18 nine days after the presidential election last fall, and cast his first ever vote on Tuesday to keep Gov. Gavin Newsom in office. “I don’t want the possibility of a Republican governor,” he said.
Many voters at the community center, a short bike ride from the tech campuses of downtown Palo Alto, agreed with him. Just over half of voters in Santa Clara County, which includes Palo Alto, are registered Democrats, compared to 16 percent who are Republicans.
Tanner Kenneth, a recent transplant from the Midwest completing his graduate degree at Stanford, voted for the recall, saying that he was in favor of a divided government. “The Covid stuff was a little severe,” he added.
Palo Alto, along with the rest of the Bay Area, was first in the nation to institute a lockdown last March. Over 80 percent of Santa Clara County residents are now vaccinated.
Across Highway 101, in East Palo Alto, over 100 voters had showed up to cast their ballots in the Lewis and Joan Platt Family YMCA by midafternoon. The city is made up overwhelmingly of people of color, and its vaccination rate, at 82.3 percent, surpasses much of California but lags behind nearby, wealthier areas like Menlo Park, where San Mateo County reports that 100 percent of individuals over the age of 10 are vaccinated.
At the YMCA on Tuesday, many expressed only qualified support for Gov. Gavin Newsom: “With a lot of these politicians, if these were regular jobs, they’d be fired,” said David Moore, 57. Mr. Moore said he wanted to see more action on “better roads, jobs, infrastructure.” Still, he and others at the polling place indicated that they were voting for Mr. Newsom to keep his job.
Icaro Vazquez, 51, a product manager at the software start-up Chronosphere and an East Palo Alto resident, said the governor was “doing mostly OK,” despite his infamous French Laundry faux pas. “On the optics, he screwed up, but on the rest, he was fine,” Mr. Vazquez said.
Reporting from Los Angeles
For weeks Republicans have baselessly stoked fears of voter fraud, urging their voters to show up in person rather than vote by mail. That means we’re likely to see an early lead for Gov. Gavin Newsom after polls close that will probably dwindle as more in-person ballots are counted.
Reporting from Los Angeles
Because Democrats far outnumber Republicans in California, and because Democrats were more likely to vote by mail, supporters of the recall are hoping for a robust in-person turnout at the polls today.
Reporting from Orange County
The governor’s campaign staff members, however, are hoping to see high in-person turnout among Latino voters, who lean Democratic and have returned relatively few ballots so far.
HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — There are only a handful of congressional districts in the country where Republicans unseated Democrats last year.
Orange County has two of them. And if the recall vote to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom succeeds here — or comes close — even if it fails statewide, that would be a serious indication that the long-anticipated flip from red to blue here is failing to materialize.
“I don’t know about the rest of the state,” said Fred Whitaker, chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, “but Orange County is going to vote to recall this governor.”
This traditionally Republican redoubt has trended away from the Republican Party in recent years. Before Hillary Clinton won it in 2016, no Democrat had carried the county since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936.
Though President Biden won it last year with 53 percent of the vote, Orange County voters helped defeat two Democratic incumbents who were swept into office just two years earlier, as a backlash to Donald J. Trump led to a repudiation of Republican candidates nationwide. Michelle Steel defeated Harley Rouda in the district that runs up the coast, while Young Kim defeated Gil Cisneros in a district farther inland, north of Anaheim. The two are among only nine Republican members of Congress elected in districts that Mr. Biden won.
Mr. Whitaker, who said he dropped off his ballot over the weekend at his neighborhood drop box, pointed to anecdotal reports of long lines at local polling places, which he interpreted as a good sign considering that many Republicans are partial to voting in person. And the staff answering the phones at the Orange County G.O.P. headquarters reported receiving information from poll watchers about crowds at sites across the county.
Though many Republicans are concerned that their party’s front-runner, the talk show host Larry Elder, is too polarizing to win over enough voters, Mr. Whitaker said he wasn’t so sure that was true in Orange County. He said Mr. Elder’s appeal was that he isn’t the kind of candidate that a more traditional Republican — someone white and middle-aged, like Mr. Whitaker — would naturally gravitate toward.
“He gets good traction with somebody who hasn’t been voting for a while than he does with somebody like me,” Mr. Whitaker said. “I don’t think your run-of-the-mill Republican gets through the messaging noise. But Larry gets through.”
Reporting from Orange County
Talking to voters over the past month, I’ve been struck by the fact that very few people expressed strong support for Gov. Gavin Newsom personally. No one mentioned voting for him in 2018, or talked about really loving him as mayor of San Francisco. But they seemed to have gotten his message that they were voting against Trump.
The recall may be almost over, but the fund-raising off it isn’t. I just got an email from the campaign of a Democratic member of Congress, claiming that a “breaking poll” shows the race nearly tied and asking people to “donate right now to save Newsom before polls close” in three and a half hours. (No recent poll shows the race nearly tied.)
Depending on the number of early ballots and the amount of in-person voting on Tuesday, the math could be clear within a few hours of when the polls close at 8 p.m. Pacific time, election experts say. But if the race is tighter than expected, weeks could pass while the counting drags on.
Recall attempts are a fact of political life for governors of California. But they do not usually make it onto the ballot, and Californians have gone to the polls only one other time to determine whether the state’s top officeholder should be ousted. That was in 2003, when Gov. Gray Davis was recalled and replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Since then, the state’s voting rules and electorate have changed substantially.
Because of the safety concerns arising from the coronavirus pandemic, ballots were mailed early to all of the state’s 22 million or so registered and active voters in the 2020 election. Voters can return their completed ballots by mail, deposit them in secure drop boxes, vote early in person or vote at a polling place on Tuesday.
Nearly 40 percent of registered voters have already cast ballots, but many Republicans have indicated that they plan to vote in person, citing — without evidence — a concern that election officials in the Democrat-dominated state will tamper with their ballots. Studies after the 2020 election found that the system had worked smoothly, with no systemic voter fraud.
Early Democratic ballots have outnumbered Republican ones by two to one, with overwhelming majorities of voters in both parties telling pollsters they plan to vote along party lines. Mr. Newsom is a Democrat, as is about 46 percent of the electorate.
But that margin is expected to tighten as Republican voters — who represent fewer than a quarter of registered voters — head to the polls.
Vote counts are notoriously slow in California because the state is so massive. The law for this election allows county officials to open and process early ballots as they come in, but those results cannot be shared with the public until the polls close, said Jenna Dresner, a spokeswoman for the California secretary of state’s office.
California has 58 counties, and each processes its ballots differently. Results often land later in larger counties, such as Los Angeles County. Officials have 30 days to complete their official canvass and must give vote-by-mail ballots postmarked on Election Day a week to arrive. The certified count is not expected until Oct. 22.
Significant partial counts should be available within a couple of hours after polls close in some key areas, such as the Bay Area and Orange County. And the electoral math in California should offer some strong clues about the outcome, said Paul Mitchell, a vice president of Political Data Inc., a nonpartisan supplier of election data.
Because so many voters are Democrats, he said, the higher the turnout, the better Mr. Newsom’s chances are of beating the recall. If the overall turnout hits 60 percent, he said, the proposed ouster of Mr. Newsom is almost mathematically impossible.
ARCADIA, Calif. — From her desk in this Los Angeles suburb, Fenglan Liu, 53, responded to a steady stream of questions about the California recall coming from voters on the Chinese messaging app WeChat.
A message popped up from a person requesting a ride to a voting center: Ms. Liu called a volunteer to arrange that. Then another.
“It’s very, very busy,” she said. “Chinese community is waking up and getting involved in politics.”
Ms. Liu is the face of an increasingly politically active constituency of Chinese Americans in Southern California.
In interviews, several said that marijuana dispensaries, homeless people and crime are ruining the cluster of cities east of Los Angeles where Chinese immigrants, many of them now American citizens, have thrived for years. And they place the blame squarely on Gavin Newsom.
Ms. Liu, who immigrated to the United States from mainland China 21 years ago, has been instrumental to mobilizing Chinese American voters in the San Gabriel Valley to support the recall. Starting in June last year, she enlisted an army of volunteers in Arcadia, El Monte and Temple City to collect 10,000 signatures.
“We really don’t like the situation in California,” Ms. Liu said. “No place is safe; crime is terrible. Newsom needs to go. This is failed management, not the pandemic.”
Asian Americans are the fastest-growing ethnic group in California, and their influence in politics has swelled as their numbers have increased.
When the last governor faced a recall, in 2003, Asian Americans comprised seven percent of the electorate. Today they account for 17 percent of all voters in the state.
The majority of Asian Americans in California lean Democratic, according to polls. But Republicans flipped two congressional districts in 2020 electing the first two Korean American congresswomen with support from Asian American voters.
As the recall approached, both Mr. Newsom and his top rival, Larry Elder, courted Asian Americans.
Ms. Liu helped organize successful campaigns in recent years to block plans to build a medical cannabis processing plant and to convert a motel into affordable housing for veterans and formerly homeless people in the San Gabriel Valley.
On Tuesday, Ms. Liu was pleased to encounter a steady influx of Chinese Americans at a voting center in Temple City, and volunteers escorting older Chinese Americans to vote.
“It’s so nice to see people here,” she said. “Before, this many Chinese did not vote.”
Several Chinese Americans who emerged from the voting station echoed Ms. Liu’s concerns about safety as motivating them to want to recall the governor. Others, like Jessie Chiu, 63, derided Mr. Newsom’s “liberal policies,” citing L.G.B.T.Q. issues, marijuana and abortion.
But not every Chinese American wanted to remove the governor, especially young adults like Ryan Lee.
“I voted against the recall,” said the 21-year-old college student, who was born in California to Taiwanese immigrants.
“I’d rather stick with Gavin Newsom than some unknown entity. Maybe he’s not the best. But he’s not a bad governor, either,” he said.
Reporting from Los Angeles
The recall largely papered over some of California’s most persistent and pervasive problems, such as inequality, housing and homelessness. Instead, the campaigns became largely about the pandemic and the national political zeitgeist. But the problems, of course, will still be here no matter what happens tonight.
Besides this effort to recall Gov. Newsom, only one other attempted recall of a California governor, Gray Davis, has ever reached an election. And California is the only place where a recall of a governor has made the ballot twice. So how does the process work?
A recall petition must be signed by enough registered voters to equal 12 percent of the turnout in the last election for governor. The organizers do not need to give a reason for the recall, but they often do. The petition must include at least 1 percent of the last vote for the office in at least five counties. Proponents have 160 days to gather their signatures.
The signatures must then be examined and verified by the California secretary of state. If the petitions meet the threshold — 1,495,709 valid signatures in this case — voters who signed have 30 business days to change their minds.
National Democrats will be watching the results of this race closely for clues about what voters are thinking. One area of particular interest: The pandemic. Gov. Gavin Newsom leaned into a message of mask wearing and vaccine mandates. A big victory for him would reinforce that message for Democrats thinking ahead to the midterms.
Reporting from Orange County
If national Democrats are looking for clues from California about mask/vaccine mandates and 2022, that will be music to the ears of Republicans, who are already well positioned to win the House back in 2022.
Reporting from Orange County
Of all the issues central to the recall — lockdowns, income inequality, crime, homelessness — one huge story has been less prominent: During the coronavirus pandemic, California paid out more than $11 billion in fraudulent unemployment claims.
Reporting from Oakland
Over the final week of the recall campaign, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office has highlighted how much rental assistance the state has paid out as part of the American Rescue Plan. The program was originally hobbled by bureaucracy, making it difficult for landlords and tenants to access. I have to wonder if some of those original problems stemmed from the unemployment debacle.
IRVINE, Calif. — Irvine Civic Center was bustling shortly before noon on Tuesday. The parking lot was full and cars circled looking for spots.
A long line of voters preparing to cast their ballots in person stretched through the airy lobby of Irvine’s City Hall and out around the edge of the sun-baked civic center plaza in the Orange County suburb.
Marc Martino, 26, dressed in blue scrubs, dropped off his ballot. He said he tries not to talk politics with his parents. “They’re the opposite of me, politically,” he added.
So Mr. Martino had not discussed with them his vote against the recall. “As a health care worker, it was important to me to have a governor who follows science,” he said.
Ganesh Krishnan, 34, and Felix Williams, 36, two friends who dropped off their ballots together, also voted against the recall.
Both said they thought the ability to remove an elected official was important, but the threshold for forcing an election was too low.
“I think the ability is good, but I think the process is too easy,” Mr. Krishnan said.
Both men also dismissed concerns about voting by mail.
Mr. Williams said that disbelief in the election system was troubling: “Just because you don’t believe CNN doesn’t mean YouTube is right.”
Jim Mastrosimone, 52, saw things differently.
Mr. Mastrosimone waited 45 minutes in line with his wife and daughter so they could cast ballots in person. He repeated unsubstantiated claims about voters casting multiple ballots, and he was eager to see Mr. Newsom removed.
He said the state under the governor was headed in the wrong direction, and that taxes and gas prices were too high. He said small businesses suffered while big businesses amassed more wealth.
Mr. Mastrosimone was vaccinated, but he said that he doesn’t believe people should be required to get their shots. Larry Elder, the Republican front-runner, eventually won his support.
Mr. Mastrosimone said he believed the list of replacement candidates was too long, which made it difficult to figure out who to vote for.
But ultimately, he valued the recall system. “It gives the power to the little guy,” he said.
This campaign has laid bare the limitations of California’s recall system, which allows an official to be recalled and then replaced by someone who received far fewer votes. Democratic leaders are already Talking about changes — not eliminating recalls, but modifying the process.
For example, critics have suggested requiring more signatures to get a recall on the ballot, having the lieutenant governor replace a recalled governor, or holding a direct contest between the incumbent and his or her challengers rather than separating the recall into two questions.
The last time Californians recalled their governor, in 2003, Mike Murphy was one of the strategists who helped make it happen, bringing a cinematic sense of spectacle to the race that suited both the state and his candidate, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But politically, California was a much different place. “This is a state where a box of hammers with a ‘D’ stamped on it can win,” said Mr. Murphy, who lives in Los Angeles and has worked mostly for the kinds of Republicans who have fallen out of favor with the party’s voters — Jeb Bush, John McCain, former President George H.W. Bush. “That’s where we are.”
Mr. Murphy helped Mr. Schwarzenegger channel voter discontent in 2003, when Californians were unnerved by rolling blackouts and an increase in vehicle registration fees, in contrast to today’s angst over raging wildfires and the government’s coronavirus response.
Mr. Murphy choreographed the Schwarzenegger campaign’s signature stunt that year: dropping a wrecking ball on an old Buick spray-painted with the words “Davis Car Tax.” It was meant as a visual reminder of Mr. Schwarzenegger’s pledge to get rid of the vehicle fee increase put in place by the man he would eventually displace from office, Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat.
“I wanted to blow it up,” Mr. Murphy said in an interview. And even though Mr. Schwarzenegger loved the idea — “Do it! Do it!” Mr. Murphy recalled him saying — they ultimately decided against it, given that the plan was to pull the stunt off at a campaign rally where Schwarzenegger fans could potentially be injured.
Mr. Murphy said that this year, he doubted there was anything Republicans could do — pyrotechnic or otherwise — to lift Larry Elder, the talk radio host and G.O.P. front-runner, over Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“If this were Michigan or another swing state, he’d be in much more trouble,” Mr. Murphy said of the governor. “But he didn’t even get the workout he deserved.
“Trump has just put anthrax in the water here, so it was impossible to clear the field for a viable Republican. That’s the world we’re in with Trump’s Republican Party.”
Reporting from Los Angeles
In the closing days of the race, Democrats framed the recall not as a referendum on Gov. Gavin Newsom, but a referendum on Trumpism. Newsom went as far as portraying the choice as a “matter of life and death.”
Reporting from Oakland
I keep wondering what the race would have been like if Kevin Faulconer — the former Republican mayor of San Diego who has played up his work with the city’s Democratic City Council — had been the front-runner to replace Newsom instead of Larry Elder, the conservative radio host. It would have blunted Newsom’s strategy of making the election all about Trump, and possibly forced the campaigns to talk about issues like wildfires or homelessness.
LOS ANGELES — Campaigning together on Monday, President Biden and Gov. Gavin Newsom celebrated California, the country’s most diverse state, as a potent example of multiracial democracy in action.
On the other side of the aisle, issues of race and diversity are similarly at the core of the message being put before voters by Larry Elder, the Republican radio host who is the leading contender to replace Mr. Newsom.
His message is that the United States long ago vanquished racism.
Mr. Elder’s choice of a campaign stop on Monday in Monterey Park, a city in eastern Los Angeles County that is predominantly Asian American and has a sizable Latino population, seemed intended to celebrate diversity. But Mr. Elder, who is Black, also used the visit to argue that systemic racism, which he has called a “lie,” does not exist in America anymore.
“No matter what language we speak, what color we share, even what political stripe we brag about,” Betty Chu, the former mayor of Monterey Park, told Mr. Elder’s supporters, “If it’s an ‘R,’ a ‘D,’ or ‘decline to state,’ the city long stood for anti-hate and bringing people together.”
Ms. Chu said that Mr. Elder’s success as a columnist and radio host, and the fact that he attended public schools and rose to prominence from South Central Los Angeles, were proof “that skin color doesn’t hold you back.”
For many of Mr. Elder’s supporters, especially conservative white voters who say they are tired of hearing about systemic racism after last year’s social unrest following the murder of George Floyd, that message is resonant.
Stacy Hallum, 47, a supporter of Mr. Elder’s who attended his rally on Monday, said she loved the diversity of where she lives, but said that “just because we’re white, we matter too.”
She continued: “I’m so tired of the racism thing. We’re done with racism. I’m not privileged, let me tell you.”
Mr. Elder has often sought to seize on issues of race, describing his policies as ones that will benefit people of color.
On the issue of private versus public education, he has attacked Democrats like Mr. Newsom for sending their children to private school while opposing charter schools and other forms of private or semiprivate education. Mr. Elder said such moves leave public schools to fail their Black and brown students.
“So what they’re afraid of is Larry Elder, from the hood, who attended a public school, is going to break that stranglehold Democrats have over Black and brown parents, specifically over the issue of school choice,” he said at the rally on Monday.
Reporting from Orange County
Even with the high vote-by-mail and early turnout, polling places in the southern parts of Orange County — very Republican — were busy. If you had dropped me at the Mission Viejo civic center with no context, I would have guessed this was a regular election day, not a special election in September.
Reporting from Orange County
In 2003, Republican strategist Mike Murphy helped Arnold Schwarzenegger oust a Democratic governor. How does he think the electorate has changed since then? “This is a state where a box of hammers with a ‘D’ stamped on it can win,” he told me. “That’s where we are.”
With false allegations of voter fraud trailing the California recall election, we checked in with Secretary of State Shirley Weber, who oversees the state’s elections, about how voting has progressed and how her office is dealing with efforts to undermine faith in the contest. The interview has been lightly edited and condensed.
How is voting going?
We’ve seen over eight million ballots mailed back thus far, which is a very significant number of ballots coming in. So that in itself is rather exciting, as well as ballots still being dropped off at the ballot boxes this morning.
We’ve had folks calling all of our hotlines asking where their polling places are or looking for additional information. It’s clear that people are interested in voting today.
Why have people been calling the hotlines?
Sometimes people have familiar polling places that they used to go to forever and now they’ve changed. We’ve had a couple of calls saying, “Where is it now?”
We’ve had folks who couldn’t find their ballots — misplaced them after they came in the mail. And we’ve had folks who left the state for a bit and wonder how can they still vote, those kinds of things.
But we’ve had no long lines, no folks waiting. We have a wait time of zero right now.
Any other hitches today?
We’ve seen small things. One polling place opening 10 minutes late, that kind of stuff.
Because of the fires, we’ve had some folks who moved away from their places. So we have to deal with that issue. We had one county the telephones were not servicing. We’ve just adapted and adjusted to every little new thing that comes along. But we haven’t had anything that’s been a major shutdown.
For those facing difficulties because of the wildfires, what else have you done?
We have made sure that all of those who were in the fire zones got their mail-in ballots.
We made sure that those who had to leave or who’ve lost their homes, that they had access to voting in various other ways, in terms of being able to go to another county to vote, making sure they had their mail-in ballots, making sure they knew where the ballot boxes were in other counties or other areas. So we have made outreach to all of those who might have been affected by any fire or any kind of tragedy.
We also set up remote mobile voting for our firefighters to make sure that those who are away from their homes had access to vote.
How are you preparing your office for the claims and possible litigation of election fraud that Republicans say they may bring?
I think the whole discussion of fraud across the nation kind of gives us a preview of what people will do. They may file various lawsuits. We know that they have been trying to collect information — they set up a website saying, ‘If you see any irregularities, show us your irregularities.’ And, you know, people go to court, and thus far across the nation, they’ve lost because there is no widespread fraud in the election process. But whether they decide to go to court or not, we will be there to defend the process.
We know that they will always talk about the fact that it was a stolen election or fraud, — or there’s a new term, “shenanigans.” We have no evidence of that, and when we’ve had allegations of any type, especially if there’s any specific information, we investigated. And as most folks have found across the nation, there is no there there.
So we’re not totally freaking out. We’re just making sure that everything we do is correct by the book. That we’ve taken our time to make sure that there’s transparency. And thus far, we’ve not found anything ourselves.
Are there extra steps of transparency that you’ve taken in this hyperpartisan era when the process itself is contested?
We do what we’ve always done. This is a unique election as a recall. But keep in mind, we’ve had four or five elections this year, special elections, as well as last November.
Anytime we discover something that might be an area of concern, we do our best to make sure that we shore that up. If we discover that somebody is complaining that the signs are too small, they couldn’t really see a sign at a voting booth, we try to make sure that next time, we do more. If folks feel disenfranchised because of language, if there’s enough folks in that community, we make sure that we increase the number of languages and make sure that those languages are clear.
And so it’s not like we are gearing up because Mr. Elder says something or someone else says something. We are aware that the question of fraud or questions of transparency are constant. And, as I travel to different registrars’ offices, I see them responding to different issues, like making sure that there’s space that people can observe the opening of ballots.
When I was in one area, they had basically created pathways for folks to be able to do that. So those are the kinds of things that we respond to all the time to make sure that those who want to build issues of transparency and fairness have an opportunity to do so.
Reporting from Sacramento
If Gov. Gavin Newsom does get ousted, the leading candidate to replace him is Larry Elder, an AM radio fixture for millions of Californians fed up with liberal Democratic politics. Leaders in both parties aren’t exactly happy.
Voter turnout for the recall appears high by nearly any standard other than the 2020 presidential election. Already, nearly twice as many people have returned ballots as cast votes in total in the last California gubernatorial recall election in 2003, when the Democrat Gray Davis was replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
This is what I keep thinking about: If Gov. Gavin Newsom had been spotted on the patio of a tiny neighborhood bistro just after urging California residents to stay home last November, we might not be blogging about a recall today.
Instead, Mr. Newsom was seen at The French Laundry, attending the birthday dinner of Sacramento lobbyist Jason Kinney. The images of him hobnobbing with guests, indoors, without a mask on, at one of the country’s most expensive restaurants, were immediately and powerfully symbolic.
The chef Thomas Keller took over the Yountville restaurant in the mid-90s and defined that era’s American fine-dining sensibility, equal parts playful and extravagant. Reservations were (and continue to be) impossible. Dishes such as the silky tuna tartare, held in a tiny, crisp cone, were (and continue to be) widely replicated, though most restaurants simply can’t replicate the atmosphere — the lush gardens, the perfume of fresh black truffles, the perfectly pressed uniforms.
As a line cook in my 20s, I studied the recipes and photographs in The French Laundry cookbook, hoping its knowledge would transfer to me, reading and rereading it so many times that the pages became soft and worn at the edges. But not long before Governor Newsom attended that private party, fueling support for the recall, I wrote about how a meal there felt a bit like sneaking onto an opulent spaceship, orbiting a burning planet. I was uncomfortable with its excess.
The restaurant’s luxurious ingredients, meticulous techniques and impeccable, formal service appeared as a kind of culinary anachronism. The 10-course tasting menu cost about $350 per person, and, during the pandemic, the restaurant started private indoor dining at $850 per person.
It’s no surprise the restaurant has become such an essential part of the recall narrative. Dinner at The French Laundry isn’t so much dinner anymore as it is a status symbol, like macaroni and cheese served in a giant golden egg.
SAN FRANCISCO — In Jose Orbeta’s opinion, the entire recall election is a “waste of time.”
“It’s a power grab by the G.O.P.,” said Mr. Orbeta, a 50-year-old Department of Public Health employee. He voted to keep Gov. Gavin Newsom in office, saying he had done a “decent job” leading California through the pandemic despite his “lapse of judgment” in dining at the French Laundry during the height of the outbreak.
Mr. Orbeta was one of many voters to cite Mr. Newsom’s handling of the coronavirus in voting to keep him in office.
Over 80 percent of eligible residents have been vaccinated in the heavily Democratic San Francisco, which along with the surrounding Bay Area was one of the first places to shut down in March 2020.
“A lot of California got out in front of it, and acting early was helpful,” said Wayne Losey, 54, who was voting in Chinatown before dropping his daughter off at school. Many voters said that while they had concerns about Mr. Newsom — “not progressive enough,” in the opinion of Rebecca Foster, a Mission resident, or “a little corporate,” as Mr. Losey put it — the alternative, Larry Elder, was worse.
Lachlan Ashenmiller, 22, was put off by Mr. Elder’s support for eliminating the minimum wage and his suggestion that slave owners, not descendants of slaves, could be owed reparations. “I’m not a huge Newsom fan, but I don’t want Elder,” said Mr. Ashenmiller, who said he got his information from friends posting infographics on Instagram and journalists he follows on Twitter.
But a few voters said they were supporting Mr. Elder in the recall. They pointed to local issues, like homelessness, in explaining their vote: “Filthy, nasty, crime rate’s up,” Patrick Harris, 53, said of his Tenderloin neighborhood.
At City Hall, bright blue tents signaling ballot drop-off sites dotted Civic Center Plaza. Volunteers played music and passed around a pink bakery box full of sesame balls. “Better late than never!” said one voter, pulling up in a silver Subaru Forester to drop off her ballot. “You’re not late,” replied Nate Orman, a public-school teacher volunteering at the drop-off site. “You’re right on time.”
With more than nine million ballots already cast early or by mail, Californians, from Mendocino County to Monterey Park, came out to cast their votes and determine Gov. Gavin Newsom’s fate. In Laytonville, the local Lions Club served as a voting center.
People lined up to vote outside the Central Library in Huntington Beach in Orange County, while election workers delivered registrar supplies. Richard Thompson, an assistant election manager, prepared for Election Day in the Redwood Playhouse in Garberville, Calif.; and one voter in Anaheim was accompanied by her young child as she cast a ballot in the recall election.
Statewide, some 13 million ballots were left to be cast or postmarked on Election Day, but the race was expected to have high turnout overall for an off-year election.
California has long cast itself as a leader in the fight against global warming, with more solar panels and electric cars than anywhere else in the nation. But the state’s ambitious climate policies now face their biggest reckoning to date in Tuesday’s recall election.
Many of the candidates vying to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom have sharply criticized California’s aggressive plans to slash planet-warming emissions, arguing that they are driving up costs across the state. Larry Elder, the main Republican challenger, has said that “global warming alarmism is a crock” and that he “intends to stop the war on oil and gas.”
Mr. Newsom, for his part, has insisted that California can’t afford to ignore the threat of global warming, particularly in the midst of yet another devastating wildfire season. He has vowed to speed up efforts to cut the state’s emissions, with plans to ban sales of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035 and restrict oil and gas drilling.
The outcome of the election could have nationwide implications for efforts to tackle global warming, given California’s vast size and influence. The state has long pioneered major climate policies, such as laws to bolster renewable energy or electric vehicles, that have later been copied by other states.
Any new governor would be unlikely to overturn many of California’s key climate laws, not least because the legislature would remain under Democratic control. But, experts said, that could still leave room for major changes. A new governor could, for instance, rescind Mr. Newsom’s order to phase out new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035 or his push to restrict oil and gas drilling, since those were issued by executive order. And any governor would also have broad influence over agency appointments and in shaping how existing climate laws are implemented.
“There’s the real potential for a huge shift in direction,” said Richard Frank, a professor of environmental law at the University of California, Davis. “California has had substantial influence over the direction of climate policy both nationally and internationally, and that could easily wane.”
On Monday, President Biden visited California to campaign for Mr. Newsom and to survey the damage from the state’s recent wildfires. While Mr. Biden highlighted the role of climate change in fueling larger fires, he left unsaid a second part: If California does decide to shift course on climate policy, it will be much harder for the president to fulfill his promises of cutting greenhouse gas emissions across the country.
A temporary change in California’s election rules aimed at protecting voters during the coronavirus pandemic could be instrumental in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s effort to beat back a proposed recall — and could become permanent if the governor signs a bill that state lawmakers passed on Sept. 2.
Voting by mail has emerged as a critical factor in the Republican-led recall, which political experts say will probably hinge on whether Mr. Newsom, a Democrat, can incite turnout in the state’s enormous base of liberal voters before the polls close on Sept. 14.
Because of the coronavirus, lawmakers ensured that ballots would automatically be mailed to every registered, active voter, turning an already popular option into the default through at least the end of this year.
As a result, political experts tracking returns in the recall are predicting that at least 50 percent of registered voters will cast ballots, roughly double the turnout that would be expected in a special election.