LOS ANGELES — Recent polls have Gov. Gavin Newsom ahead by double digits in the California gubernatorial recall election, which allows his campaign to feel safer heading into Tuesday. But there’s always a chance for polling misses.
If Newsom is removed and replaced by a Republican, that scenario could put the Democrat’s control in U.S. Senate in jeopardy.
Associate Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at the University of Southern California, Christian Grose, looked closely at the implications of a new governor on a national level. Right now, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, at 88-years-old, is the oldest sitting member in the U.S. Senate.
If the Golden State’s Democratic governor is replaced by a Republican in this recall election, it would give the new leader the same power to appoint a new senator in the case that one were to leave office. Newsom exercised this power when then-Senator Kamala Harris left seat for her new job at the White House.
“It's a terrible thing to think about, you don't want to think about such a thing,” Grose said. “But what happens if [Feinstein] gets really ill and has to resign? Or what if, terribly, she dies? There's a vacancy in the Senate.”
The Senate now is evenly divided at 50-50, with Vice President Harris as the tie-breaking vote — meaning a newly appointed Republican Senator would flip the chamber.
“It would totally change the agenda in Washington,” Grose said. “Things would be completely different if the Republicans were able to take control of the Senate by one vote.”
This scenario happened in a profound way in the 1950s, Grose said.
“The Senate has a lot of people who are older; older people have health problems. But in this one time period of two years, 1953 to ’54, nine senators died. Most of them had unexpected heart attacks,” Grose said. “But what happened is every time someone left the chamber, a governor replaced the person. Some of the governors didn't share the same political party as the people who died and left the Senate, and so, slowly but surely, it went from three seats to two seats to one seat and then switched. And back then it was a Republican Senate and ended up going to the Democrats. And then a Democrat died, and the Republicans took over again. So it's not impossible to imagine."
Grose said on average, at least over the last century or so, about one senator dies every session.
“I mean if that were to happen, it would be terrible to have lost a senior senator, but it would just be one of the biggest things for changes in policy in Washington DC,” Grose said.
So not only is this a race in the state, but the outcome could also theoretically, significantly impact the fate of Congress and Washington.
This recall election would determine the governor for the rest of Newsom’s term which ends in just a little over a year. Feinstein is less than halfway through her six-year term which ends in 2024.