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How does the California recall election affect the rest of the United States?

The fate of Gov. Gavin Newsom will be decided next week, but the outcome of the gubernatorial election could also have consequences for the rest of the nation.

The fate of Gov. Gavin Newsom will be decided next week, but the outcome of the gubernatorial election could also have consequences for the rest of the nation.

On 14 September a special election will be held to decide whether the state of California is to remove Gov. Gavin Newsom from office, which would make him just the third governor in American history to be removed via a recall.

If this were to happen to Newsom, a generally popular Democrat in a state where blue voters outnumber red by nearly two-to-one, it would be a sensational defeat for the Democrats and one that could have national repercussions. 

There are few states as reliably Democrat-voting as California and a defeat there, even in a gubernatorial election such as this, would represent a great embarrassment for President Biden and his party. It could foreshadow some disappointing results in the 2022 mid-terms and help to build momentum for a Republican Party that is desperate to break up Biden’s unified control of Congress.

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Change in governorship could have Senate repercussions

The prospect of losing control of such a blue-leaning seat would be a shock for the Democrats, but the real nightmare scenario is what could happen if a GOP governor is instated in Newsom’s place. The current front-runner to replace him is talk radio host Larry Elder, who is a supporter of former President Trump and boasts the campaign funds to challenge the incumbent.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California is less than half-way through her six-term stint in the Upper House, but at 88-years-old there is some concern about her ability to remain in the role for the remainder of that time. If for any reason she had to be replaced before the end of her term, the governor of California would be able to name her replacement.

It may seem unlikely but senior Democrats will be stung by memory of the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2020. The liberal justice died just weeks before the November 2020 presidential election but Trump swooped in to name conservative Amy Coney Barrett as her successor, significantly altering the ideological split in the court.

If something similar were to happen to Feinstein and a GOP replacement were sworn in then it would have an even greater impact on the divide in the Senate. Currently the Democrats have the narrowest of margins in the Upper House, wielding control in a 50/50 Senate by virtue of the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris.

If the Democrats lost the Senate it would force Biden to find a bipartisan path for any legislation he is looking to pass through Congress and rule out the use of reconciliation to pass his ambitious economic agenda. He relied on the reconciliation mechanism to pass his $1.9 trillion American Relief Plan and is awaiting a vote on the future of a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package to fund his infrastructure proposals.

A single lost seat in the Senate would scupper any hopes of doing something similar in future and could put the brakes on his Build Back Better agenda entirely.


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