California women show decisive support for Newsom, concerns about Elder, as recall looms

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EAST LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 14, 2021 - -California Gov. Gavin Newsom greets volunteers who were working the phone banks in support of voting against the governor's recall at Hecho en Mexico restaurant in East Los Angeles on August 14, 2021. Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de Leon, California State Senator Maria Elena Durazo, California Assemblyman Miguel Santiago and other Latino dignitaries were on hand to support the governor. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Gov. Gavin Newsom greets volunteers working phone banks in support of voting against the recall on Aug. 14 at Hecho en Mexico restaurant in East Los Angeles. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Patricia Boe cannot imagine why anyone would support the recall.

And the Santa Ana resident — a Republican-turned-Democrat — can’t fathom why any woman would vote for conservative talk show host Larry Elder, the leading GOP candidate to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom if he is recalled in the Sept. 14 election.

Boe is a member of Moms Demand Action, which advocates for strengthened gun laws. She’s grateful for Newsom’s support of gun control legislation. She fears the erosion of reproductive rights, especially since Texas just passed the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the country.

“I just can’t even comprehend if California went down the same path as Texas,” the 42-year-old said. “And having somebody like Larry Elder in the governor’s office, we would be on that track. That is not where I want to see my state going.”

Newsom might have problems, as the recall looms, Northern California burns and COVID-19 surges, but wooing women voters is not one of them.

The latest poll from the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, released Thursday, shows that 62% of likely women voters approve of the job the governor is doing running the world's fifth-largest economy. And men? Just 43% give the state’s chief executive a thumbs-up.

Even more women — 66% — told the institute they are against the recall. In comparison, more than half of men who are likely to vote want to remove Newsom from office before the end of his first term.

There is a certain logic to women’s support of the governor and opposition to the recall. Polling over the past year shows that Democrats strongly oppose the recall; women make up a majority of the Democratic Party in California.

“Democratic women voters are a very, very important source of support for Gavin Newsom,” said Mark Baldassare, president and chief executive of the PPIC. “For Newsom, it’s all about turnout — that that core constituency sends their mail ballots in.”

So far, Newsom hasn’t done all that well in translating support into action. As of Tuesday, women had cast 51% of the mail-in ballots that had been returned.

But political sociologist Mindy Romero, director of the USC Center for Inclusive Democracy, notes that Newsom has brought increased urgency to his campaign in recent weeks, as polls have tightened. He has turned the choice into a "matter of life and death," focusing on the pandemic. COVID-19, she said, is a topic that has had a greater impact on women than on men.

Historically, Democrats have focused on matters close to women's hearts, especially single women and those of color — issues such as reproductive rights, healthcare, insurance and education.

"For women who are following all those things and care about those issues, then you have the ultimate healthcare crisis," said Romero. The replacement candidates, she said, are offering "a different kind of argument: freedom from policies," such as mask and vaccination mandates.

In a tweet accompanying a 30-second ad released in August, Newsom's campaign posted, "When it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine, this recall election is a matter of life and death. GOP front-runner Larry Elder says he would repeal every vaccine mandate on his first day in office."

That argument works for voters such as Michelle Seow, a licensed marriage and family therapist. As she strolled through Old Town Monrovia en route to pick up her children from school, the 43-year-old said she is hearing "a lot of anxiety about COVID and the world" from her patients.

"I think [Newsom's] doing a good job, a good job keeping us safe from COVID," she said. "I like how he's thinking about people's needs. ... I follow him on Instagram. He goes to different sites where the fires are. It makes me feel he's invested."

Deborah Engle, a 72-year-old from Laguna Beach, said she’s baffled by the motivation behind the recall.

“I just do not understand why people would want to recall a governor who has tried everything in his power to help people deal with the COVID crisis,” she said. “I was happy that he was looking out for us older people when he said early on that we needed to stay home.”

The mask mandates the governor handed down starting in 2020, she said, weren't "some outlandish thing that he just came up with to make people uncomfortable. It was to protect us, and I appreciated that approach."

The sense that Newsom cares about the needs of regular people is also why Yessenia Contreras, 45, a driver for the grocery delivery service Shipt, opposes the recall.

On Thursday afternoon, she was stowing her own shopping into her trunk at the Boyle Heights Food 4 Less and getting ready to pick up her son from Roosevelt High School.

"I like what he's doing for my community," Contreras, who lives in the heavily Latino neighborhood, said of Newsom. "From what I see, I think he's doing an OK job on things like renter programs for low-income communities and food giveaways."

And she's not surprised, she said, that women support his candidacy: "He is a good-looking guy. Maybe that could be the reason."

Another key finding of the PPIC poll is that 61% of likely women voters said the current effort to recall the governor is not an appropriate use of the recall process (compared with 44% of men). And 47% of women said life in California would be worse if the recall succeeds (compared with 34% of men).

Stacey Storey, a 31-year-old Democrat, in Old Town Monrovia with her dog Agnes.
Stacey Storey, a 31-year-old Democrat, strolled Old Town Monrovia with her dog, Agnes. She voted no on the recall and wonders why it's happening in the first place. (Maria La Ganga / Los Angeles Times)

"I don't really know why the recall is happening," said Stacey Storey, a 31-year-old Democrat from Monrovia, as she searched for lunch in Old Town, walking with her pit bull mix, Agnes. "I voted for no recall. I'm tired of there being so much politics. I feel like we're dragging it out."

India Shoush, a registered independent who plans to vote no on the recall, said Thursday afternoon that "this is not the way the process is supposed to work."

She's not a big fan of the governor. When asked what she thinks of him, the 37-year-old said, "Eh. He's a good-looking politician. We could probably do better." But, as she stood in line to buy tamales at the Me Gusta food truck at the El Segundo farmers market, she argued, "there's not enough reason to recall him."

"We have an election soon," she said, noting that voters can dump Newsom when he runs in 2022. "The economy is coming back. And I believe in mask mandates."

Women, however, are far from a monolithic voting bloc. After all, if 56% of likely women voters are Democrats, 44% aren't. PPIC figures that 25% are Republicans, and 17% registered with no party preference. Among likely male voters, 40% are Democrats, 27% are Republicans, and 27% registered with no party preference.

Shannon Quintana, 45, said she didn’t know who Newsom was before COVID-19 forced widespread stay-at-home orders in California.

“It was literally the first day when they started shutting everything down, and he came on the screen, and I was like, ‘Who is this guy?'” the Huntington Beach Republican said.

As the pandemic wore on and business closures continued, she quickly grew to dislike him — enough so that she is casting her ballot in support of ousting him. Over the past year, she has watched as friends with small businesses struggled to stay afloat. It appeared that the pandemic wasn’t affecting Newsom in the same way, she said.

“People were losing their livelihoods, and his wineries remained open,” she said. Newsom is partial owner of the PlumpJack Group of wineries, which he placed into a blind trust before becoming governor. “It was beneficial to him, but other people were suffering.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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