With less than two weeks to go until Election Day in the California recall, Gov. Gavin Newsom has carved out a more comfortable lead than voter surveys showed just two weeks ago, according to a new poll from the Trafalgar Group, a Republican firm.
The most recent poll, conducted Aug. 26-29 among 1,088 likely voters, gives Newsom a nearly eight-percentage-point margin on the top-line question that will determine whether he remains in the governor’s mansion or is ousted by voters. It showed that 52% of Californians say they intend to vote no on whether to remove Newsom while 44.4% said they would vote yes, with just 3.7% remaining undecided. The poll has a margin of error of just below three percentage points.
Newsom has been facing a far more competitive challenge than expected in solidly blue California. Over the last month, the first-term governor has repeatedly pleaded for national Democratic Party help as polls showed a dead heat on the question of whether to remove him from office.
Initial plans for Vice President Kamala Harris to hold a rally this past Friday for Newsom were scrapped after news that 13 American service members and as many as 180 Afghans were killed in a terror attack at the Kabul airport. White House officials have said that President Biden will stump for Newsom, but time is running out and it’s unclear whether those plans remain in the wake of the chaotic and deadly Afghanistan withdrawal.
On the second question, regarding whom voters would select as a replacement if Newsom were removed, the new Trafalgar poll shows conservative talk show host and surprise GOP frontrunner Larry Elder expanding his lead to 29% among the more than 40 certified candidates running. Previous polls showed Elder leading but with support hovering in the low 20% range.
The candidate with the next highest level of support is little-known Kevin Paffrath, a 29-year-old real estate broker who hosts a YouTube channel about personal finance, stocks, taxes and real estate with 1.6 million subscribers. Paffrath is the only competitive Democrat in the mix to replace Newsom, who managed to prevent any high-ranking Democratic officials from challenging him. Paffrath has the support of 22% of likely recall voters, according to the Trafalgar poll.
The next tier of candidates, all Republicans, poll only in single-digit territory. Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and businessman and perennial political candidate John Cox are tied with 4.1% support, while reality TV personality and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner is at 1.1%. Former GOP Rep. Doug Ose, who represented the Sacramento area in Congress for multiple terms, ended his campaign in mid-August after suffering a heart attack. Ose garnered just 0.2%.
The Trafalgar survey found that the race could still prove competitive between Paffrath and Elder if a majority of voters want Newsom ousted. Some 30.3% of those polled remain undecided on who they want as a potential replacement, and 9.1% indicated they would like to support “someone else.”
The poll’s partisan breakdown largely reflects the state’s registered voters. Trafalgar surveyed 48.1% likely Democratic voters, 25.7% Republicans and 26.2% of those selecting no party preference when registering. Democrats make up 46.5% of the California electorate while Republicans account for 24.2% and those expressing no party preference constitute 23.3%.
California GOP officials say Republicans remain highly motivated to remove Newsom after the governor instituted strict COVID stay-at-home orders and public school closures. But so far, Democrats are dominating in the all mail-in ballot election. (Every registered voter was sent a ballot to return by mail or at drop-off locations by Sept. 14.)
As of Wednesday morning, more than twice as many Democrats had voted than Republicans, with liberal regions of the state, such as the Bay Area, having the highest rate of returns, according to state officials and political data researchers. Nearly 4.7 million Californians had cast their ballots as of Wednesday morning, including 2.5 million Democrats compared to 1.1 million Republicans.
More Republicans distrust mail-in voting systems, and in the 2020 election they were much more likely to vote in-person on Election Day. Recall organizers are pressing Republicans not to wait until the last minute to cast their votes despite that widespread distrust.
While the Democratic turnout advantage so far is an encouraging sign for Newsom, there are also red flags. Latino voters are underperforming expectations, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday. While these voters constitute more than a quarter of the electorate, they make up less than a fifth of the people who have returned their ballots so far.
Republicans have been courting the Latino vote, with Elder and Faulconer airing Spanish-language ads. Elder also focused his message on Hispanics during a Wednesday press conference, advocating for school choice and blaming teacher unions for failing 6 million children who attend public school across the state, the majority of whom are Latino.
Citing statistics published by the California Department of Education, Elder said only 28% of Latino public school students meet or exceed state math standards while 60% of Latino students do not meet state reading standards.
“This is not acceptable,” he said.
Elder argued that families should “be able to embrace all the school-choice opportunities that will move Latino students forward, along with African American students, who suffer the same type of fate.”
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
Susan Crabtree is RealClearPolitics’ White House/national political correspondent.