The effort to recall Newsom began over his policies on immigration, crime and taxes but gained steam after he ordered restrictions to curb the pandemic and urged Californians to stay home — and was caught going against his own guidance while dining with friends at one of the country's most expensive restaurants.
Republicans had hoped the recall would become a referendum on California's chronic problems with crime, energy, homelessness and high housing prices. But the delta variant has kicked the coronavirus outbreak back to the top of issues the public is worried about.
Newsom and his team sprung into action, trying to make the race instead a referendum on COVID-19 precautions like masking in schools and vaccine mandates. Democrats began warning that replacing Newsom with a Republican would turn California into another Florida — a reference to how the Republican governor of that state, Ron DeSantis, has fought mask and vaccine mandates even as the virus has spiked there.
Biden campaigned with Newsom in California on Monday, echoing the governor's team's message.
"Voting no will be protecting California from Trump Republicans trying to block us from beating this pandemic," Biden said.
Ace Smith, a top Newsom strategist, said the campaign has demonstrated that politicians shouldn't be "timid" on the coronavirus.
"The campaign seized on that and used it to literally create a very simple choice for voters," Smith said.
Whether that choice pays off for Democrats could change the tenor of the national debate. Smith already says he thinks Democrats — bracing for a traditionally tough midterm election next year because they're the party in power — should be more aggressive touting "sanity" on public health.