Democrats saw a chance to win two U.S. Senate seat in Georgia. The January election was an all-hands effort that involved party activists from coast to coast, and across the ocean.
An army of organizers flooded the state, marquee Democrats clamored to weigh in, volunteers ran phone banks from London and Paris, among countless far-flung locales, and donors poured more than $300 million into the race. It took many Democrats a while to believe they had a chance. The party’s record in Senate elections was a long-term failure. As the race became more competitive, Democrats made Georgia their holy land. The elections of Jon Ossoff , and Raphael Warnock as Vice president Kamala Harris was the tiebreaker , Democratic takeover of the U.S. Senate.
The dynamic was the exact opposite in California’s gubernatorial recount election.
For the longest time Democrats outside of California saw the effort to remove Gov. Gavin Newsom was a nonstarter. Once it qualified, many regarded it as one of those weird California things, like crystals or having kale for breakfast. How can a popular Democrat from a strong Democratic state be thrown out of office?
Then polls showed that Republicans and anti-Newsom voters were more likely to vote than Democrats and other supporters. Surveys suggested that the race was close for the target incumbent.
Cue for the cavalry.
President Biden spoke out, opposing the move. Harris announced a campaign stop with Newsom, which was scrubbed after the terrorist attack on the Kabul airport. Harris will make a makeup appointment Wednesday in the Bay Area, while Biden will be in California to vote before Sept. 31st. 14.)
In the past week, prominent national Democrats, including Senator Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer from New York, and allied organizations such as the Brady gun control group have tapped their vast donor networks for the governor.
“Trump, along with national Republicans, launched a shameful attempt to expel Gov. Schumer spoke in typicalally stuttering fundraising-speak to exonerate Newsom. He stated that to win, it would take a huge grassroots effort by Democrats all over the country to get every voter .
Hyperbole aside. Democrats across the country have not stormed any barricades. Republicans have not.
Outside groups spent nearly $15 million on Facebook advertising alone in the weeks leading up to Georgia’s special election, according to BPI, a communications and marketing agency. They spent about $2 million on this summer’s New York mayoral election but so far less than $600,000 on the recall election.
National Democratic groups that sent activists to Georgia and recruited volunteers from across the country to assist with texting and phone calls have largely stayed out of the California contest.
It must be noted that the political stakes for Georgia were much higher.
“It involved a struggle for control over the United States Senate, which had significant implications for the newly elected President of the United States,” stated Mark Mellman, a Democratic strategist who has extensive campaign experience in California. “In many ways, it was about the fate of the Biden agenda.”
And it should also be noted the recall election is hardly taking place in a vacuum.
“There are a lot of crises out there — Afghanistan, the Delta variant, wildfires, hurricane, Haiti,” said John Anzalone, a pollster for Biden’s 2020 campaign who remains close to the White House. “A lot to talk about at the kitchen table, and a California recall is not one of them.”
Still, losing the governorship of one of the bluest states in the country — a foundation in the electoral college and unparalleled source of campaign cash for Democratic campaigns and causes nationwide — would be no small thing. (Californians chipped in more than $41 million to help elect Warnock and Ossoff. Out-of-state contributors have given about $19 million of the nearly $81 million raised to keep Newsom in office. )
The governor has, naturally, been open to any assistance he can receive, with Sanders and Biden topping his list.
In the interim, Newsom’s campaign claims that the anti-recall party has built the largest and most extensive get-out-the vote operation in California with the support of organized labor, the state Democratic Party, and local activists. The governor has collected donations from almost 250,000 residents, building the kind of grassroots support Sanders, the king of small-dollar fundraising and winner of the 2020 primary, enjoyed in the state.
The assistance of Biden, Harris, and especially Sanders and Warren with their wide following on the left, surely helped rouse many Democrats from their summer torpor. If Newsom beats the recall — and the latest polling seems to bode well for him — there will be no shortage of Washington personalities quite happy to claim their share of the credit.
Democrats from all over the country will be joining the celebration. the governor can be thankful for a mostly-California-made effort.
Times staff writer Maloy Moore contributed data research for this column.