Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent victory in the recall confirmed his popularity in California and has established him as the runaway favorite for the 2022 gubernatorial election.

That’s according to a recent poll out of the University of California, Berkeley.

What You Need To Know

  • Early polls show Newsom with a big early lead in the 2022 gubernatorial election

  • Democrats worried Newsom would be weakened by the recall; instead, his popularity among voters has been largely verified

  • Polls show that Newsom has double-digit leads over all the top Republican candidates from the recall, including Larry Elder and Kevin Faulconer

  • Democrats have tried to connect Republicans with Donald Trump, who has low favorability ratings in the state and did not campaign during the recall effort

Republicans have lost ground in the state legislature over the years and are now beholden to the Democrats’ supermajority. A recall was considered the party’s best shot at wresting control of the government from Democrats. 

While the election results offer conclusive evidence of where Newsom stands, the Republican party’s standing is less certain. Larry Elder emerged as the face of the recall, but whether he has emerged as the leading candidate for a 2022 bid is unclear. Elder has been repeatedly linked by Democrats to the politics of Donald Trump, who was conspicuously absent from any election campaigning.

Early polling from UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies shows Newsom in a commanding lead. 

“These results reinforce the message from Tuesday’s election that Newsom is now in good shape looking ahead to 2022, at least when today’s most likely Republican challengers are considered as alternatives,” said IGS co-director Eric Schickler.

The recall represented an opportunity for Republicans to energize voters and strike out at Democrats in an election that was expected to have a low turnout. Instead, voters turned out in force, assisted by the mass distribution of mail-in ballots.

Democrats hope the election has served to weaken Republicans by successfully convincing voters that the state party is now synonymous with the values of Trump. And new findings indicate that the governor holds a big early lead.

“The results show Newsom holding leads of 22 to 25 percentage points in head-to-head matchups against each Republican in simulated 2022 gubernatorial election matchups,” the IGS reports.

Republicans were fractured with state and local parties largely forgoing a unified endorsement. 

Tab Berg, a Sacramento-based Republican political consultant, said the party’s biggest problem is not the issues it supports but its public image. While the party is outnumbered in elected office, he says California is not nearly as liberal as it appears.

“It’s not a debatable issue. Do Republicans lose consistently? Yes. Republicans have a branding problem,” he said.

Berg points to landmark propositions like affirmative action and rent control that failed to make it past voters. Legislators force liberal laws through, Berg said, but voters have balked at some of the most progressive ideas on the ballot.

Ever since the socially liberal, fiscally conservative days of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Republicans have been in search of the right messenger. The latest election hasn’t necessarily clarified who that messenger should be. 

Tony Smith, a University of California, Irvine, professor of political science and the law, said Republicans can be competitive in statewide elections but lack a clear message. The trend he’s seen has been the consolidation of the party on right-wing values encapsulated in some of the policies Edler spoke of on the campaign trail. Republicans are failing to get a coherent message across, he said, because of the party’s “identity crisis.”

“It’s hard to imagine it being a competitive race given what happened,” Smith said. “There would have to be an abject economic disaster.”