Gavin Newsom Campaign Takes Huge Lead With Half the Votes Counted in Recall Election

California Governor Gavin Newsom took an early lead as the first votes in the state's recall gubernatorial election were tabulated on Tuesday night.

Official results showed the option to retain Newsom leading by 5,238,573 votes to 2,478,640 votes, a lead of over 35 percent, with 16.7 percent of precincts partially reporting less than an hour after polls closed at 8 p.m. local time. CNN projected that Newsom would survive the recall after an exit poll showed the governor leading by 5,313,621 to 2,562,883 votes after 61 percent of responses had been counted.

The election asked California voters to answer two ballot questions: whether to recall Newsom and, if so, which candidate should be his replacement. Republican frontrunner Larry Elder had a decisive lead of over 30 percent over the runner-up Kevin Paffrath in a crowded field on the second question.

Prior to the results being counted, exit polling suggested that controlling the COVID-19 pandemic was the top issue for voters in the state, likely an encouraging sign for Newsom since Elder had promised to dismantle public health restrictions. A 69 percent majority of voters supported the state mask mandate, while 63 percent considered becoming vaccinated a responsibility rather than a personal choice, according to ABC News. Exit polls also showed that a majority of voters were "scared" about the prospect of Newsom being removed from office.

Newsom campaign strategist Sean Clegg told reporters that he could not "see a scenario where we're not talking about a victory for the governor and a complete rejection of this appalling partisan power grab" hours before the polls closed, while Elder hinted during a radio interview a short time earlier that he may be preparing another challenge to Newsom in 2022, when the state's next regular gubernatorial election is set to take place.

Polls prior to the election had shown the vote against recalling Newsom building a healthy lead over option to remove him, with the "no" vote leading by almost 16 percent on Monday night, according to polling analysis site FiveThirtyEight. One month earlier, the Democratic governor's fate seemed far less certain, with some polls indicated a tight race.

Although recent polls and the early election results suggested that Elder is unlikely to become California's governor in 2021, it was not clear that he would accept the will of the voters in the event of defeat on Election Day. Elder refused to say whether he would accept the results in pre-election interviews, while his campaign pre-emptively alleged that fraud would be at play and assembled a team of lawyers poised to challenge the results.

Newsom slammed Elder for suggesting that the election would be fraudulent unless he was the winner, telling MSNBC's Jacob Soboroff on Tuesday that the Republican campaign was "quite literally trying to dismantle democracy and trust in this country, our very nation" while vowing that he would "accept the will of the voters, no matter what it is, period, full stop."

Newsweek reached out to the Newsom and Elder campaigns for comment.

Gavin Newsom California Recall Election Results Elder
Democratic California Governor Gavin Newsom appeared poised to survive the attempt to recall him as early results from the election were counted on Tuesday. Newsom is pictured giving a "thumbs up" to supporters after delivering a speech to union workers and volunteers in San Francisco, California on September 14, 2021. Justin Sullivan/Getty