Biden says Newsom California recall victory validates his Covid policies

Though Governor Newsom’s strict Covid-19 guidelines fueled anger, voters still voted to keep him in office

California Governor Gavin Newsom addresses supporters at a campaign event. AP
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President Joe Biden on Wednesday congratulated California Governor Gavin Newsom, a fellow Democrat, on surviving a Republican-led recall election, saying it was a sign of approval for their joint work in fighting Covid-19.

“Congratulations to Governor Gavin Newsom on defeating the recall vote,” President Joe Biden said in a statement released by the White House on Wednesday afternoon.

Mr Biden, who campaigned for Mr Newsom the night before the final day of in-person voting, said the results were a defence of the governor and president's actions during the pandemic.

“This vote is a resounding win for the approach that he and I share to beating the pandemic: strong vaccine requirements, strong steps to reopen schools safely and strong plans to distribute real medicines — not fake treatments — to help those who get sick,” he declared.

President Joe Biden speaks at a rally for California Governor Gavin Newsom before the California gubernatorial recall election on September 13 in Long Beach. AP

Mr Newsom claimed victory in the special recall election on Tuesday evening after results showed a landslide win in defence of his leadership, meaning he will remain in office through January 2023.

The governor was ahead by 28 percentage points, with 64 per cent of voters saying he should stay in office and 36 per cent saying he should be removed. Some mail-in ballots have still to be counted.

“I want to focus on what we said yes to as a state: we said yes to science, we said yes to vaccines, we said yes to ending this pandemic,” Mr Newsom said in a victory speech on Tuesday night in the state capital of Sacramento.

He faces yet another electoral challenge as the state will hold a regularly scheduled gubernatorial election next year.

Mr Newsom’s aggressive approach towards containing the coronavirus outbreak in the state was a driver behind the recall movement, in addition to Republican frustration over his polices regarding immigration, climate and gun rights.

The pandemic seems to be the primary reason he survived. An exit poll conducted for CNN showed that about one third of voters said the pandemic was their top concern — far more than any other issue.

“The fact that voters in both traditionally Democratic and traditionally Republican parts of the state rejected the recall shows that Americans are unifying behind taking these steps to get the pandemic behind us,” Mr Biden continued.

As the Delta variant sweeps across the country, Mr Newsom's actions contrasted with those of Republican-run states such as Florida and Texas that have resisted coronavirus mitigation measures.

Under Mr Newsom, California was the first state to lock down in spring of 2020 and county leaders chose to enforce stricter measures for longer.

Los Angeles was the national epicentre for the disease in January 2021 and many hospitals became overwhelmed. The most populous US state has also recorded the most deaths from Covid-19, with more than 67,000 fatalities registered.

The Republican favourite in the recall election, radio talk show host Larry Elder, said he would lift the state’s vaccine and mask mandates if elected.

“If the next few months going into the midterms get fought on vaccine mandates and masks and keeping kids safe, that’s good for Democrats,” said Robert Shrum, a long-time Democratic adviser who teaches at the University of Southern California.

Reuters contributed to this report

Updated: April 02, 2022, 6:32 PM