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The Latest On The Recall Election In California

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And this is it. Today is the last day for California voters to weigh in on the recall effort against Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom. Newsom and many of his challengers have been out and about all around the state, making final pitches to voters. We will be tracking developments all through the evening, and we are kicking off with Libby Denkmann, senior political reporter at KPCC in Southern California.

Hey, Libby.

LIBBY DENKMANN, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: All right. So what are the final pitches? Start with Newsom and other Democrats. What are they telling voters?

DENKMANN: Well, Newsom and his fellow Democrats want voters to think beyond state lines. The governor's trying to make this a referendum on President Trump and Trumpism in a state where the former president lost by nearly 30 points last November. And that's a message that President Biden helped drive home to voters when he joined Newsom for a rally in Long Beach yesterday. He called Larry Elder, the conservative radio host who's leading the polls to replace Newsom, a virtual clone of Donald Trump.

And as we move into the final hours of voting, Democrats are leaning into their COVID-19 record in California. Newsom's making the case that his relatively strict coronavirus lockdown measures saved lives. And polls show that messages - that message may be resonating, along with the massive fundraising advantage Newsom has had in this contest. What looked like a tight race about six weeks ago has shifted dramatically to a comfortable lead for the sitting governor.

KELLY: OK, so a comfortable lead. Things are looking good for Newsom. But if things don't go his way, it looks like it might be a good night for Republican Larry Elder, who, as you mentioned, has shot up in the polls in recent weeks. You're going to be with his campaign later tonight in Orange County. What are we expecting to hear as his final pitch?

DENKMANN: That's right. Elder has been consistent in his messaging throughout the campaign. He says Newsom's strategy on COVID hurt businesses and California's public schoolchildren, who were not in classrooms for most of the past 18 months. The Republican says Newsom abused his powers of office, and he has pledged to roll back vaccine and masking mandates on his first day in office.

Elder has also begun questioning the validity of the election before voting is even closed and without any evidence surfacing of widespread fraud. He said he has lawyers standing by to challenge the recall results, and Elder's campaign launched a website asking voters to report irregularities. But an early version was written in a way, Mary Louise, that suggested the election was already over and claimed the campaign had detected fraud. None of this has any basis in evidence, and it echoes the efforts by Republicans led by former President Trump to invalidate the 2020 presidential election.

KELLY: What has turnout been like?

DENKMANN: Well, more than 40% of voters have already cast their ballots in the election. Election Day is really election month in California, we always say, because every registered active voter has been mailed a ballot for COVID-era elections. And we know so far registered Democrats are outpacing Republicans in turning those ballots in. Democrats already have a huge registration advantage in California, but the question was whether Republicans could overcome that divide with a massive amount of excitement for removing Newsom combined with a late surge in in-person voting. But just by the pure math of how the electorate looks in California, the odds are stacked extremely high against the GOP here.

KELLY: And real quickly, I suppose we should note that whether it's Newsom or Elder or somebody else, they're going to have to be thinking about running for reelection before they can turn around.

DENKMANN: Right. A number of top Republicans have said they will run against Newsom again in 2022. Larry Elder is not among them, hasn't committed to that. If Newsom's commanding lead holds, however, national Democrats may look to this race as a blueprint on how to run on COVID safety measures when they're defending their turf in the midterms next year.

KELLY: Libby Denkmann - she is member station KPCC's senior political reporter.

Thank you.

DENKMANN: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.