California’s recall campaign is switching to high gear in advance of the Sept. 14 election, and polls show Gov. Gavin Newsom is in a tight race to keep his job.

What’s a determined pol like Newsom to do when the numbers are too close for comfort? Claim that this election is, literally, about life and death, which is the theme of a Newsom campaign ad:

Vote against the recall or people will die. The advertisement leans heavily into the friction between Democrats and Republicans in terms of COVID responses and support for related lockdowns and mandates. It suggests Newsom’s directives have helped to protect the state, also noting that he has ordered vaccination mandates for health workers and teachers. Then the ad argues that Republican recall frontrunner Larry Elder (they don’t say his name, but they use his image and one of his tweets) would get rid of mask and vaccine mandates “on Day One.”

The ad seems to be trying to frighten apathetic Democrats into voting to protect Newsom, because of his importance in fighting the pandemic. But the oppressive mandates that weren’t tied to the scientific understanding of COVID’s spread, and his own flouting of those guidelines, means his credibility has taken a hit. If Newsom hadn’t made a mockery of his own lockdown demands by having a fancy dinner at French Laundry with lobbyists, would Republicans have gotten enough signatures for the recall?

Frightening people is a tried-and-true political ad strategy. It’s also the kind of strategy a confident campaign looks at…but never uses. Newsom is hardly confident, and that means anything and everything goes as he seeks to stay in power.