Friday, June 18, 2021

California: A tactical argument for a late recall -- my op-ed in the LA Daily News

We've seen repeated signs that leading Democrats are pushing to move up the date of a recall election by eliminating some of the lag in the recall law. The LA Times' Mark Barabak may have the best explanation for this plan with an old political saying: "If you got the votes, call the roll." 

I take a counter position in this op-ed in the LA Daily News. You can read the piece to get the full opinion, but I'd first note that "calling the roll" in this case means scheduling an event at least two months from now. I suspect that the fear of "something can go wrong" misses out on the fact that something can just as easily go wrong in the shorter timeframe. The extra time doesn't add that much to the danger.

So what would Newsom be sacrificing to get this over with earlier? 

1) more time to get away from any lingering complaints of the pandemic. 

2) Enough of a cushion to make sure that any problems with school reopening are worked out before the vote. A major source of complaints and especially recalls have been targeting school board members for shutdowns and hybrid learning. This is one area that an "early surprise" can truly blow up in Newsom's face.

3) Money -- and lots of it. Newsom's fundraising will kick into high gear. I suspect that he will greatly outraise the pro-Recall side -- witness the Walker campaign in 2012. There's a good chance that most of the pro-recall money will come from small donors, and, as we've seen, there's a good chance that will be siphoned off to "other uses" or will involve an incredibly high cost ratio to raise the funds (allowing fundraisers to make a tidy profit). A good portion of the money is likely to go to replacement candidates and their campaigns, which is unlikely to make as good an argument for the recall -- remember, the replacement candidates are also competing against one and other.

4) This extra money will allow Newsom to dominate the campaign and the airwaves. The longer timeframe he has, the better that a strong campaign works.

5) This part is not in the piece, but it may illustrate why this is important. In 2008, Michigan Speaker of the House Andy Dillon faced a recall vote. The recall was scheduled for November -- the same day as his reelection run. If Dillon was removed, he would only be out for a few months. Presumably, the two votes would be very similar. They were, but the discrepancy may mean something. Dillon won the recall vote 14,257-23,987, and he won his reelection race 14,311-27,864. Now you can say there is a natural drop off in vote as it gets further down the ballot. But that drop off is not evenly distributed. The kick-Dillon-out campaign lost only 54 votes. But the keep-Dillon-in-power saw a drop-off of 3,877. This is one race. Maybe you feel it's not so important. Maybe you look at other famous past instances of appearing on the same ballot twice in one election and feel this doesn't mean too much. I would argue that what this may show is voters in favor of the recall are more motivated and interested in punishing the elected official. Which brings us to...

6) Newsom presumably has a lead in voters who would naturally vote for him. More time will allow Newsom and the Democrats to educate voters about the recall and make sure that they get out and cast their ballot. More time can help Newsom organize this turnout and education effort, which may be more important than any other factor in his survival. 

There are other arguments suggesting that a speedier recall would help Newsom. I think the most powerful is that the replacement candidates are in disarray and there has been no coalescing around any one contender. The only candidate who has got the most attention, Caitlyn Jenner, has been nothing short of a disaster. The longer time frame could allow the pro-recall forces to hit on the right candidate and "catch fire." 

I'd say that a longer campaign is a risk worth taking for Newsom. Increasing turnout and leaning into your monetary advantage is likely to be more valuable than focusing on what the opponents can do. 

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