Gov. Gavin Newsom coasted easily to a second term as California’s governor Tuesday evening, in an election in which voters voiced their support for abortion rights loud and clear but soundly rejected an expensive push to legalize betting on sports.
The Associated Press called the race for Newsom — a heavy favorite over Republican challenger Sen. Brian Dahle — almost as soon as polls closed. Democrats unsurprisingly also swept California’s other statewide offices, and incumbent Alex Padilla cruised to victory over Republican challenger Mark Meuser, becoming the first Latino elected to the U.S. Senate in California.
“The Democratic party just has another boost of political capital to go back to Sacramento and keep doing what they’re doing,” said Melissa Michelson, a political science professor at Menlo College. Newsom’s decisive victory, coming on the heels of beating a recall attempt last year, also gives him a strong launching pad for a potential future presidential run, Michelson said.
Proposition 1, which explicitly guarantees the right to an abortion by adding it to the state’s constitution, passed by a landslide. On the other hand, Props. 26 and 27, both of which would have allowed sports gambling, fell flat.
Newsom, who had little need to put resources into his re-election campaign for governor, instead turned much of his focus this season to supporting abortion rights. After the polls closed Tuesday, he celebrated at a pro-Prop. 1 party in Sacramento.
“We have governors that won their re-elections tonight in other states that are banning books, that are banning speech, that are banning abortion, and here we are in California moving in a completely different direction,” Newsom said at the event, according to the Associated Press. “That’s a deep point of pride.”
Thank you, California!! pic.twitter.com/bmjFRahClx
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) November 9, 2022
With the battle for Congress shaping up to be tighter than expected, California’s House races carried more intrigue. Democrat Adam Gray had a slight lead over Republican John Duarte in the newly drawn San Joaquin Valley District 13. In Orange County, Republican Michelle Steel and Democrat Jay Chen were neck-and-neck, as were Central Valley Democrat Rudy Salas and Republican incumbent David Valadao, who faced backlash from conservatives for his vote to impeach President Trump.
It will take some time for California’s final election results to roll in, as counties still have to count mail-in ballots that may arrive up to seven days after Election Day. Statewide, 28% of ballots had been returned as of Tuesday, according to Political Data, Inc., which tracks voter data.
Dahle, a state senator from a family of ranchers in Lassen County, faced huge odds from the outset in his bid to unseat Newsom. Californians haven’t elected a Republican governor since Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006, and, just weeks before the election, Dahle was still an unknown to many voters.
Today is an opportunity for new leadership in #CA. Go vote. #Dahle4Governor #Vote
— Senator Brian Dahle (@BrianDahleCA) November 8, 2022
In a Public Policy Institute of California poll taken right before the election, 52% of likely voters said they approve of the way Newsom is handling his job, while 45% said they disapprove. Perhaps the biggest storyline was how Newsom focused more energy on confronting red-state rival governors such as Florida’s Ron DeSantis, who also cruised to re-election Tuesday, over abortion and other social issues in what could be a potential preview of the 2024 presidential campaign.
Prop. 1’s victory was no surprise in a state that heavily supports abortion rights. The measure isn’t likely to have an immediate effect, as the California constitution already protects the right to privacy — which has been interpreted to cover abortion — and the state’s 2002 Reproductive Privacy Act also guarantees a woman’s right to choose. By voting to formally enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution, though, Californians sent a firm message that they stand behind the principle.
“Voters used their voice to say loud and clear they support access to abortion and contraception — safeguarding people’s rights for generations to come,” Jodi Hicks, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, said in a statement.
Abortion became a cornerstone of this election when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade earlier this year, rolling back 50 years of abortion rights. The issue immediately became a key piece of politicians’ campaigns in California and across the nation, showing up in mailers, stump speeches and TV ads seemingly everywhere voters turned. Democrats hoped abortion would fire up voters and increase turnout, and even deployed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to help spread the word with an event at a San Francisco Planned Parenthood facility.
Prop. 31, which would uphold California’s ban on flavored tobacco products, also scored an easy victory Tuesday. Two years after Newsom signed a law banning the sale of the flavored products — which critics say help hook kids on smoking — the tobacco industry gathered enough signatures to place a referendum on the ballot asking voters to overturn it. But Californians showed little willingness to do so. As of late October, 58% of likely voters said they’d uphold the ban, and just 32% said they’d vote to kill it, according to a poll by the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies.
The one ballot measure projected to be a tight race was Prop. 30, which would have taxed the richest Californians to fund electric vehicle rebates and other environmental initiatives. Advocates said it would help improve air quality, while opponents — including Newsom — worried it would drive wealthy Californians out of the state. Lyft, which along with other ride-sharing companies must use zero-emission vehicles for at least 90% of its miles by 2030, bankrolled the measure. The measure appeared headed for defeat Tuesday night, after losing momentum when Newsom said he worried a new tax on the state’s wealthy could drive them out of the state.
The dueling measures for sports gambling also failed to get enough voter support. After more than $556 million in fundraising for and against Props. 26 and 27 — making them the most expensive set of propositions in state history — and a blizzard of campaign ads, Californians gave a huge thumbs-down to the proposals to legalize betting on sports. Prop. 26, backed by a coalition of California tribes, and Prop. 27, backed by large online sports-betting companies, pitted the two sides against each other for control of what could be a billion-dollar industry. Prop. 27 was projected to raise hundreds of millions of dollars a year for the state in fees and taxes, 85% of which was pledged to go toward programs addressing homelessness and mental health.
In all, the propositions amounted to expensive and highly publicized failures. Last month, just 31% of likely voters supported Prop. 26, and 27% supported Prop. 27, according to a poll by the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies. That may be partly because voters just don’t care. Fewer than a third of likely voters said the outcomes of Prop. 26 and 27 are very important, according to a PPIC poll taken shortly before the election.
“It’s a nice reminder that money doesn’t equate to victory,” Michelson said. “That just throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at an initiative campaign doesn’t mean you’ll win.”
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