President Biden joined Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday night for a final campaign stop in Long Beach on the eve of the recall election, lending his firepower to fight against the governor's possible ouster and underscoring the national importance of defeating the effort.
"California, I'm not sure you know it but if you didn't know it, you should," Biden said. "This is not hyperbole: The eyes of the nation are on California. Because the decision you're about to make isn't just going to have a huge impact on California, it's going to reverberate around the nation. And quite frankly, it's not a joke, around the world. "
The rally capped a long day in the West for the president, and a months-long campaign for Newsom and his opponents. Earlier in the day, Biden traveled to Boise, Idaho, and Sacramento to survey wildfire damage and discuss his administration's response.
A pre-show lineup of mariachi music and dignitaries from across Democratic Party ranks — including Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison, California Democratic Party Chair Rusty Hicks and state elected officeholders — rallied the crowd of more than 1,000 invited labor representatives, college students and other Democrats at Long Beach City College before the president and governor's arrival shortly before 7 p.m.
The president's stop in California marked the closing campaign act for Newsom, who has touted support from several high-profile Democrats in recent weeks, including former President Obama, Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Last week, Vice President Kamala Harris returned to California to court voters on behalf of the governor.
In a 15-minute address, Biden praised Newsom's handling of the pandemic and urged attendees to vote for the governor because of his support for reproductive rights and efforts to mitigate climate change.
“Folks, send a message to the nation: Courage matters, leadership matters, science matters. Vote to keep Gavin Newsom," Biden said.
The Biden administration has a vested interest in the recall’s outcome. A Newsom victory could lift Democrats after a politically challenging several weeks for the president, whose popularity has taken a hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s resurgence and the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. The election of a Republican governor could be devastating to Democrats nationwide, with the possibility that the new governor would appoint a replacement for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) should she retire and leave an open seat in theSenate.
On Monday, the president and governor pointedly attacked the recall as an effort led by Republicans supporting former President Trump. Biden likened conservative talk show host Larry Elder, the leading Republican candidate in the race, to Trump and told the audience "there's too much at stake" to let him become governor.
"We may have defeated Donald Trump, but we have not defeated Trumpism," Newsom said to the crowd before Biden took the stage. "Trumpism is still on the ballot in California and that's why it's so important, not just for all of us here 40 million Americans strong in the nation's largest and most populous state, but also to send a statement, all across the United States of America, that Trumpism has no place here, and Trumpism will be defeated all across the United States of America, because we're better than that."
Recent polls suggest Newsom probably has little to worry about, after an early split among voters a few weeks ago developed into a strong showing of support for the first-term governor. A UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll, cosponsored by the Los Angeles Times, released Friday showed that 60.1% of likely voters surveyed oppose recalling Newsom compared with 38.5% in favor of ousting the governor.
A crowd of pro-recall protesters gathered outside the Long Beach event Monday, chanting "Recall Newsom!"
“First Vice President Harris, now President Biden: it is baffling and insulting that Gavin Newsom would want either of them here campaigning to save his job while California children, women and families remain abandoned in Afghanistan by this Administration," California Republican Party Chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson said in a statement following the event. "It’s clear protecting those they were elected to serve comes second to politics. Lucky for Californians, we have a chance tomorrow to recall Gavin Newsom and replace him with a leader who finally puts their needs first.”
Earlier Monday, Elder finished a full day of campaigning around Los Angeles County, which began at Monterey Park City Hall to present a medal to a World War II veteran and discuss his campaign platform, including his support for school choice and repealing vaccination mandates. He received a warm reception from attendees, as well as former Democratic state Sen. Gloria Romero and former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, who have steadily supported him in the final weeks of his campaign.
Across the street from the civic center complex, Robert, a retired truck dispatcher who did not want to give his last name, stood on the lawn outside his American flag-festooned home holding a cardboard sign with the words “No Recall” in white paint.
He said he’d hastily made the sign an hour earlier, when he saw the campaign bus passing his house.
“Just to make my little voice heard,” he said.
Elder later headed to Philippe the Original, a French dip sandwich shop, to talk with voters over lunch. Excitement rippled through the tables in the back of the restaurant as news spread that the candidate would soon be arriving at the downtown L.A. institution.
Dodging French dip-laden cafeteria trays, patrons scrambled toward Elder for photos when he entered the room. Many cheered and chanted his name. Even in heavily Democratic Los Angeles, the lunch crowd at Philippe was overwhelmingly on Team Elder.
“Scientific poll right here — I’m going to win,” Elder said, as several supporters embraced him.
Of Newsom's opponents, Elder leads the pack with 38% of support from likely voters, according to the Berkeley IGS/Times poll — a double-digit lead over Democrat candidate and YouTube star Kevin Paffrath, who garnered 10%.
“I think I’ve energized the state, I’ve energized the party. … That’s why they’re bringing in this heavy load,” Elder said, referencing the national Democratic surrogates who have been campaigning for Newsom in recent weeks.
Last week’s Venice attack, where a woman in a gorilla mask threw an egg at Elder and hit one of his staffers, has also become part of the stump speech pic.twitter.com/bmjVRiVCC4
— Julia Wick (@sherlyholmes) September 13, 2021
Elsewhere, recall candidate Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin) kicked off a “drive to election day” tour in San Diego on Monday morning, which led him to Los Angeles’ Manual Arts High School, where he taught 10th grade English and coached the debate team before beginning his career as a prosecutor turned legislator. Kiley told a handful of supporters gathered at the school that his two years as a Teach for America fellow — hoping to "provide educational opportunity and achieve educational equity" for students — motivated his run for the legislature in 2016.
"Unfortunately, that's something that our political class has been failing at, nevermore so than over the course of the last year and a half," he said. In a 10-minute address Monday, the Assembly member lambasted Newsom for his handling of the pandemic, including using "extraordinary emergency powers" to close schools.
Republican candidate John Cox also launched a bus tour through California, with an afternoon stop at the upscale French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley, a swipe at Newsom, who took part in a birthday gathering at the eatery last year. The governor's attendance at the event — with several unmasked people outside his household — directly contradicted the state's COVID-19 guidance to the public at the time, and ignited a wave of support for the recall from Californians frustrated with the governor for breaking his own rules.
Other replacement candidates finished their campaigns with a series of media interviews instead of trekking around the state. Republican former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer appeared on CNN and "Inside California Politics" over the weekend.
Some Republicans began laying the groundwork to contest the election should Newsom win, despite no evidence of voter issues. Elder repeatedly refused to answer whether he would accept the election results if the recall effort fails. He recently added a section to his campaign website called "stop fraud" for voters to report any irregularities.
“I anticipate winning. So there won't be any question about the results, because I'm gonna win,” Elder said at a San Pedro park Monday afternoon.
Former President Trump weighed in with a statement Monday, alluding to the 2020 presidential election which he has continued to falsely paint as having been stolen from him: “Does anybody really believe the California Recall Election isn’t rigged?”
Newsom anticipated the pushback at a rally Sunday, addressing a gathering of a couple of hundred supporters in Sun Valley.
“It’s Act 2 in the big lie. That’s what we’re up against, Democrats.”
Times staff writer Eli Stokols contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.