The Democrat leading the nations biggest state is facing a raging pandemic, vaccine distribution problems and a nascent recall drive.
California is running so low on oxygen that officials are telling emergency crews to conserve supplies. Ambulances in Los Angeles are backed up outside emergency rooms, sometimes for hours. And the coronavirus vaccine distribution remains so disjointed that a freezer failure that forced immediate inoculations of hundreds of people in Northern California inmates, older people, and some people on the street was hailed as an improvement.
Californians are frustrated, tired and sick. And in the midst of the unfolding catastrophe, Gov. Gavin Newsom confronting a burgeoning recall effort, on top of a year of wildfires and civil unrest is under siege.
Nobody has been dealt a tougher hand than Gavin Newsom, Gray Davis, the former California Democratic governor who was recalled in 2003, said in an interview. Look, I had the energy crisis and a recession. He has a pandemic we havent seen for 100 years. He has the fallout from that pandemic, racial injustice, wildfires, and I think Im leaving something out. But nobody, no living governor, has had to experience as many crises as him.
Halfway through his first term, the Democratic governor of the nations most populous state is scrambling to control a pandemic that has crippled the southern half of California since Thanksgiving. The pandemic has given Republicans, long sidelined in this heavily Democratic state, a rare opportunity to wound him. And Newsom is laboring to keep the state and his own political future intact.
People are really pissed off, said Ted Costa, the anti-tax crusader who was the original proponent of the Davis recall. He signed Newsom recall papers last week in the parking lot of a Home Depot in Thousand Oaks. Things can get hot quick, and I dont know if Newsom realizes what happens when a groundswell hits.
For Newsom, an ambitious Democrat with a national profile, the extent of the problem is unclear. The last Republican to win a gubernatorial election in California was Arnold Schwarzenegger, and that was nearly 15 years ago. When Newsom won the governorship in 2018, he carried the state by nearly 24 percentage points. His public approval rating last year stood at 60 percent.
Yet the pandemic has worsened in recent weeks. And the frame of reference through which Californians view Newsom is about to change dramatically when Joe Biden replaces Donald Trump in the White House. No longer benefiting from a reliable foil in Washington, the bar of public approval for Newsom and for Democratic governors across the country is likely to be raised.
For the last couple of years during Newsoms tenure, people have been saying the nations going in the wrong direction and the state, compared to the nation, is going in the right direction, said Mark Baldassare, a veteran pollster and president of the Public Policy Institute of California. Now, without a Republican president to judge Newsom against, he said, "It certainly changes that point of contrast."
Newsom has met the surging virus and its economic fallout with a series of proposals intended to help the most vulnerable Californians and to get schoolchildren back into classrooms. Last month, he proposed a $2 billion effort to reopen elementary schools for the states youngest students, with additional protective equipment and testing. Earlier last week, Newsom proposed giving the states low-income workers $600 rapid cash grants. And in a boon for his political fortunes, the states budget, despite dire predictions, is so healthy that Newsom released a budget proposal on Friday that calls for record spending while adding billions of dollars to the states reserve accounts.
But good news has been rare in California, and Newsom has not been without blunders. He came in for a drubbing after attending a dinner party for a top political adviser at the upscale restaurant The French Laundry a liability not only because Newsom enjoyed his night out as he was discouraging Californians from gathering for the holidays, but because the location was so posh. Californians who might otherwise have stopped mocking him for that episode weeks ago have only had more reason for frustration amid the pandemics worsening conditions.
In the city of Los Angeles and in our county, Covid-19 is now everywhere and infecting more people than ever, the citys mayor, Eric Garcetti, said at a grim news conference on Thursday night.
Garcetti, a Democrat who has come under public pressure similar to that facing Newsom, has blamed the federal government not the state for delays in vaccine distribution. But Newsom is facing criticism from others for being too slow to distribute the Covid-19 vaccine, something the federal government has left up to states.
I dont think Californians can understand why we have hundreds of thousands of doses sitting there, and theyre not being administered, said Garry South, a Democratic strategist who advised Newsoms 2010 gubernatorial campaign and was a senior adviser to Davis. Californias been through nearly 10 months of hell, and now theres potentially a light at the end of tunnel with these vaccines but it doesnt do anybody any good if theyre not administered.
Youve got to get these vaccinations in people's arms, he said.
Like other Democrats, Newsom has faulted the Trump administration for the slow vaccine rollout, joining the Democratic governors of seven other states last week in pressing federal health officials to release more doses. And in the new administration in Washington, Newsom will have some help. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who this month will be sworn in to fill the seat of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, said in an interview that he plans make Covid, Covid, Covid his top priority and will work immediately to get Newsom whatever help he needs.
100 million vaccinated people will be getting sick and destroy the economy.