Pandemic Drove Many California Recall Voters

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U.S.|The pandemic was the No. 1 issue for many voters in California’s recall election.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/15/us/california-recall-newsom-pandemic.html

Voters at the Torrance Culture Arts Center in Torrance, Calif., on Tuesday.
Credit...Ryan Young for The New York Times
  • Sept. 15, 2021Updated 6:53 a.m. ET

The coronavirus pandemic helped propel the recall attempt of Gov. Gavin Newsom to the ballot in California, and on Tuesday, his handling of the pandemic was an overriding issue as about two-thirds of voters decided he should stay in office.

Across the nation’s most populous state, voters surveyed by New York Times reporters outside polling places cited Mr. Newsom’s pandemic restrictions and support for vaccine mandates as key factors in whether they voted to oust or keep him. The recall served as a preview of next year’s midterm elections nationally, with voters sharply divided along partisan lines over issues such as masks, lockdowns and mandatory vaccinations.

In San Francisco, Jose Orbeta said he voted to keep Mr. Newsom, a Democrat, in office, calling the recall a “waste of time.”

“It’s a power grab by the G.O.P.,” said Mr. Orbeta, a 50-year-old employee of the Department of Public Health. He said Mr. Newsom 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.

In Yorba Linda, a conservative suburb in Orange County, Jose Zenon, a Republican who runs an event-planning business with his wife, said he was infuriated by Mr. Newsom’s pandemic restrictions and support for vaccine mandates. He pointed to examples of his friends leaving for other states, such as Arizona, Nevada and Texas.

“That train out of here is really long, and we might be getting on it, too,” Mr. Zenon said, just after voting for Larry Elder, the Republican talk-radio host who led the field of challengers hoping to take Mr. Newsom’s job.

“The rules this governor made put a lot of businesses in an impossible position — we were without income for 10 months. Here we live in a condo, we want to have a home, but it’s just impossible. Something’s got to change.”

Some voters in an increasingly politically active constituency of Chinese Americans supported the recall. They blamed Mr. Newsom for a rise in marijuana dispensaries, homeless people and crime that they said are ruining the cluster of cities east of Los Angeles where Chinese immigrants, many of them now American citizens, have thrived for years.

“We really don’t like the situation in California,” said Fenglan Liu, 53, who immigrated to the United States from mainland China 21 years ago and helped mobilize volunteers in the San Gabriel Valley.

“No place is safe; crime is terrible. Newsom needs to go. This is failed management, not the pandemic.”

In the wealthy Orange County suburb of Ladera Ranch, Candice Carvalho, 42, cast her ballot against the recall because, she said, “I thought it was important to show that Orange County isn’t just Republicans.”

She expressed frustration that the recall was taking so much attention at a critical moment in the pandemic.

“It was a waste of money and completely unnecessary,” she said. “And I’m a little shocked we’re focusing on this now.” While she acknowledged knowing little about the specifics of state election laws, she said it seemed “slightly too easy” to get the recall attempt on the ballot.

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