The California recall election officially happened today, but the voting has been going on for a few weeks (and official results may not be known for several weeks to come). The final polling appears to indicate Gov. Gavin Newsom will survive, but not without having taken some lumps along the way.
His problem? As L.A. Times columnist George Skelton wrote, Newsom is just not likeable, and his series of tone deaf actions have made it hard even for Democrats to rally to his defense:
If Newsom survives, it will be because of this era’s rigid political polarization. Democrats won’t be voting for him as much as they’ll be rejecting what they consider the scary notion of turning over the governor’s office to a Republican.
In fact, that concept — vote against the GOP and evil Trumpism — is what Newsom’s TV ads are pitching.
You can count on a few fingers the number of California governors and U.S. presidents who have excelled at inspiring voter devotion in the last 100 years. Earl Warren and Ronald Reagan. Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama for Democrats and Donald Trump for Republicans.
What is Newsom missing?
“Politics is no different than any walk of life. People either like you or they don’t,” says veteran Democratic strategist Darry Sragow, who publishes the California Target Book, which charts state legislative and congressional races.
And in politics, he says, “people just have to like you.”
Yes, they do – it’s one of those iron laws of modern, media-age politics that likeability matters a lot more than principles, and sometimes, even one’s record.
We’ll be watching the returns with interest to see what they have to say about likeability, and how it stacks up against a massive campaign war chest and monolithic campaign organization.