Recall vote underscores California’s geopolitical divisions

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – The California recall election was a victory for Governor Gavin Newsom, adding to the political divisions in the state: the Democratic governor won huge support in coastal areas and urban centers, while the rural north and rural hinterland had far fewer voters , wanted him largely gone.

“It’s almost like being in two states,” said Melissa Michelson, a political scientist at Menlo College.

Although California is a liberal stronghold, with Democrats holding every state office and a two-thirds majority in the legislature, there are deeply conservative areas as well. These residents have long felt alienated from Sacramento, where the Democrats have been in full control for more than a decade.

A conservative movement in the far north of California has been trying for years to break free and found its own state in order to better reflect the political sensibilities of the region.

While Republicans can still win a few local elections, the party has not won a nationwide race since 2006. Last year then-President Donald Trump received 6 million votes in California in 2020 – more than any Republican presidential candidate before him – but still lost in a landslide to Democrat Joe Biden, who won nearly 64% of the vote.

Republicans only hold 11 of the 53 seats in the US House of Representatives, but their strongholds don’t have nearly enough votes to defeat Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area and other Democratic areas in statewide elections. And counties like San Diego and especially Orange, which are the second and third largest populations, used to be mostly Republican, but are no longer.

With about 85% of the recall votes counted, those who opposed Newsom’s early retirement had 64%. In San Diego, “No” gained 17 percentage points on recall and 4 points in Orange.

Fresno, the tenth most populous county, was the largest the recall resulted in. But it was only 1 percentage point ahead.

Jeffrey Cummins, a professor of political science at Fresno State University, said the results reinforce that Newsom’s partisan critics constitute “a fairly small segment of the population.”

“They are very vocal about this disdain for Sacramento and the state government in particular, and the recall has just … given them a national platform to express their opposition to the direction the state is taking,” he said.

The GOP organizers of the recall could not expand their appeal and even struggled to highlight Republicans in their core areas. For example, Kern County – most of which is represented in Congress by House minority leader Kevin McCarthy – will have less than a 50% turnout when all votes are counted. Nationwide voter turnout is forecast at around 55%

Los Angeles County – the largest county in the country with a population of 10 million – is the democratic core of the state, where statewide elections can be won or lost depending on the turnout. With 3 million Democrats, it makes up almost a third of the party’s national total.

“We’ve been in the LA media market more than anyone. And that was on purpose, ”said Nathan Click, spokesman for the Newsom campaign. It apparently worked – Newsom got almost 71% assistance there.

It has long been true that Democrats tend to dominate in urban areas of the US, while Republicans are more prominent in rural and agricultural areas. But deep geographic polarization has not always been a hallmark of California politics.

There is no single reason for the current divide. But that includes the recession in the early 1990s and the closure of military bases and the collapse of the defense industry, which caused many white working-class residents to leave the state.

California’s economy has centered more on a burgeoning Silicon Valley and the entertainment industry, both liberal bastions. At the same time, the state became more diverse as millions of Latinos and Asians moved in. Over time, the coastal areas where most of the population lives have become more diverse and democratic.

Eric McGhee, a senior fellow at the bipartisan Public Policy Institute of California, said a decade ago that the geographic divide was mainly defined by the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas, but the counties of San Diego, Orange, and San Bernardino, with a total population of 8, 5 million people have all become more diverse and more democratic.

Since his early days in office, Newsom has promised not to ignore the Central Valley and to travel there regularly. He supports the controversial high-speed rail project under construction in the region and has vowed to provide more drinking water in areas where it is lacking.

But his government has also alienated farmers, the backbone of the region’s economy, with water restrictions in the midst of a drought.

Newsom on Wednesday promised to respect those and work hard for those who supported him and those who didn’t.

“Those who voted ‘yes’ are important. I care. And I want them to know that I’ll do my best to have their backs too, ”he said.

But the reality is that Newsom can’t make everyone happy.

“Newsom rules a very large and very diverse state, and it’s hard to pay attention to the very liberal coastlines and the more temperate or even more conservative areas,” Jessica Trounstine, professor of political science at the University of California, Merced, told the Central Valley of the state.

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Blood was reported from Los Angeles.


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