Gavin Newsom May Get Late Surge in Latino Voters in California Recall

Governor Gavin Newsom's performance with Latino voters and outreach to the community, questioned just one month ago, appears to have improved just in time, with voters headed to the polls Tuesday for the recall election.

Three weeks ago Democrats were sounding the alarm, worried that a conservative talk radio provocateur like Larry Elder could wrest control of the deep blue state's governorship, upending coronavirus policies and dealing a critical blow to the party.

On August 27 lagging Latino enthusiasm was cause for concern, with Latinos only returning 6% of mail-in ballots, behind Asian and Black voters in the state. But as of September 11, when the PDI ballot tracker last updated, Hispanics had returned 1,379,094 ballots, comprising 23% of the total.

"While there was concern early on, in the last 3 weeks the no on recall side has done a pretty good job engaging Latino voters," a top Democratic pollster told Newsweek. "Over the past six days since in person voting started we have seen an increase each day in Latino turnout."

Latinos make up about 30% of the California electorate, yet are still not fully flexing their voting power in the state. But they have improved the outlook for Newsom in a state where Joe Biden carried the Latino vote by more than 50 points over Donald Trump.

Newsom already had an advantage with the number of registered Democrats in the state, Arturo Vargas, CEO of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO), told Newsweek.

But the Los Angeles-based Latino leader, whose group promotes Latino civic engagement, also said the Newsom campaign has done a better job over the last month.

"In terms of the outreach and the campaigning that I've seen, it has stepped up overall, and it has stepped up in terms of messaging to Latinos by Newsom," he said.

California political observers have noted that Newsom began solidifying his standing in the polls in recent weeks when he made the recall election about the danger Republican candidates posed to the strong pandemic protocols already in place.

The Los Angeles Unified School District decision to require vaccinations of students "brought a lot of relief to parents that their kids are going to be safe," Vargas said, while the strategy by Republican candidates to say they would abolish mask and vaccine requirements "is sinking them when it comes to Latino support."

Still, Latino organizers and leaders in the state say Newsom would be making a big mistake if he forgets about Hispanic voters until he needs them again ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

"We understand what we have with Newsom," Luis Sanchez, the executive director of Power California, which is working to mobilize the kind of politically influential young Latino voters who helped Senator Bernie Sanders decisively win the Democratic primary in 2020.

He described Newsom as a middle of the road politician who has done some good things like expanding health care for undocumented seniors and enacting the California stimulus.

But he said that his organization will hold the governor accountable again the day after the election.

"This election is not about Gavin or the recall, it's about our ability to prime the pump with young voters to let them know the midterms are just as important next year," he said. "It's not just about how Gavin shows up for the community over the next year, but also the future of Congress."

In California, where 54% of active COVID-19 cases and 46% of the the deaths were Latino, the pandemic is never far from people's minds.

In fact, Power California speaks to three to five Latino voters a night about the recall who say they are currently in the hospital, Sanchez said. It's part of the reason he feels Newsom has done some good with his emergency declarations around the pandemic. But the community will be looking for more from him on permanent eviction protections, too.

"We pushed Newsom before the pandemic, in the midst of it, and will push him after, because we didn't think he was bold enough," Sanchez concluded.

Vargas has been critical of both parties for years on Latino outreach. He has chastised Democrats for only focusing on small slices of the Latino vote in states like Nevada and Colorado, while ignoring behemoths like California and Texas.

He said a new era of always-on outreach is necessary moving forward.

"One of the lessons learned from Trump's strategy is you don't stop campaigning among Latinos," Vargas said.

He noted Trump's "successful strategy in winning Florida and flipping the Latino vote in South Florida to a significant extent."

"Any candidate, Newsom or otherwise, who says I can stop worrying about Latinos after election day, that's a losing strategy," Vargas said.

gavin newsom
Gavin Newsom waves to supporters as he arrives at a "Vote No" get-out-the-vote tour campaign stop at Mission Language and Vocational School on September 07, 2021 in San Francisco, California. With seven days to go until the California recall election, California Gov. Gavin Newsom continues to campaign throughout the state. U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will be joining Gov. Newsom at a campaign event in the San Francisco Bay Area on Wednesday. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images