LONG BEACH, Calif. (Reuters) – President Joe Biden on Monday campaigned with California Governor Gavin Newsom on the eve of a Republican-backed recall race that both Democratic leaders cast as an attempted power grab by political acolytes of former President Donald Trump.
Biden joined the embattled first-term governor in the port city of Long Beach, near Los Angeles, for Newsom’s final rally ahead of a special election on Tuesday that will test the power of a Republican Party still dominated by Trump in a deeply Democratic state.
Biden joined Newsom in characterizing the recall effort, heavily supported by state and national Republican groups, as part of a broader Republican agenda to oust Democrats from power and expand conservative restrictions on voting, civil rights and abortion.
Recall supporters have countered that the move to force Newsom from office gained traction from mounting resentment over his decisions to close schools and require masks and vaccinations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Democrats rallying to Newsom’s cause have followed his lead in invoking Trump’s record and the Republicans who have embraced his falsehoods of a stolen presidential election.
“I got to run against the real Donald Trump,” Biden told a crowd of several hundred at Long Beach City College. “Well, this year, the leading Republican running for governor is the closest thing to a Trump clone that I’ve ever seen.”
It was an apparent reference to Republican radio host and Trump supporter Larry Elder, who polls show as the leading candidate among a crowded field of would-be successors on the recall ballot, though the president did not mention him by name.
Taking the stage before Biden, Newsom took a similar tact, declaring his oft-repeated line: “We may have defeated Donald Trump, but we have not defeated Trumpism. Trumpism is still on the ballot in California.”
The president and governor met up earlier in the day in Sacramento, the state capital, where Biden stopped during a tour of wildfire damage in the region. They then flew together on Air Force One to Long Beach.
Vice President Kamala Harris stumped for Newsom in the San Francisco Bay area last week, and the governor has drawn campaign ad appearances from such Democratic luminaries as former President Barack Obama and Senator Bernie Sanders.
Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor and lieutenant governor, entered the last day of a month-long early voting period in a strong position, with Democrats overwhelmingly supporting him and outnumbering Republicans more than 2-to-1 in balloting thus far.
Biden’s visit caps a dramatic turnaround from earlier this summer, when polls indicated Democrats were planning to vote in so few numbers that Newsom, who won election in 2018 by a wide margin, was in danger of losing his job in a state where Republicans make up less than a quarter of registered voters.
A Newsom defeat would have national implications for Democrats seeking to cling to razor-thin majorities in Congress, signaling trouble as emboldened Republicans escalate their efforts to win back control of the legislative branch in next year’s congressional elections.
It also could spell the end of Newsom’s political ambitions, widely believed to include possible runs for the U.S. Senate or the presidency.
Arriving for the rally with Newsom, the president’s motorcade passed multiple groups of anti-Biden protesters, including one crowd of about 200 holding signs that read: “Trump won,” “unvaxxed lives matter” and “Recall Newsom.”
At the rally, a sign at the front of the stage said “Stop the Republican recall.” Another golden illuminated sign said, “Vote no.”
Under California’s recall system, voters are asked to vote “yes” or “no” on whether to recall Newsom, and then to choose from one of 46 replacement candidates on the same ballot.
If Newsom fails to win a simple majority on the first question, then the candidate with the most votes on the second – even if less than a majority – automatically replaces him for the duration of his term.
Polls show Elder, a Trump supporter, topping the list of replacement candidates with the support of 38% of those likely to vote on the second question.
Newsom assailed Elder’s position on climate change, saying he supports more offshore oil drilling and has called global warming a “hoax.”
Also in the race are Republicans including former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, businessman and former gubernatorial nominee John Cox and reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner, along with Democrat Kevin Paffrath, a YouTube host who jumped into the fray.
(Reporting by Steve Holland in Long Beach, Calif.; Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Calif.; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Cooney and Tom Hogue)