Some Republicans are claiming the Newsom recall race is rigged. Is that strategy working for the GOP?

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Angie Perrin

Tuesday is the last day Californians can cast their ballots in the gubernatorial recall election, either in-person or by mail. As that deadline nears, Governor Gavin Newsom has called on the Democratic Party’s biggest names to help carry him across the finish line. Former President Barack Obama appeared in a statewide ad telling voters to vote “no” on the recall. Vice President Kamala Harrison campaigned in the Golden State last week, and President Joe Biden is in Long Beach tonight for a last-minute rally with the governor. 

The latest polls show Newsom is likely to survive the recall. Going into September 14, Democrats have a 2.3 million voter advantage over Republicans, according to Paul Mitchell, the vice president of Political Data, Inc.

Meanwhile, gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder appears to be adopting former President Donald Trump’s reelection strategy: Make baseless allegations that the election is rigged. Mitchell says that’s not the right message to send to prospective Republican voters. 

“If you're trying to get them to turn out, you don't say, ‘Your vote doesn't matter. Now go vote.’ It's really … voter suppression of their own team,” Mitchell tells KCRW. 

Although that sort of messaging isn’t new, conspiracy theories around a rigged election caught fire as Newsom started to do better in the polls. That’s according to Nick Corasaniti, a New York Times domestic correspondent covering national politics.

“It has kind of always been there. And it wasn't really until [the election] looked like it was going even worse that it really accelerated, and is now one of the main talking points that we're seeing both online and even on the campaign trail, hearing that this is going to be rigged,” Corasaniti explains. “In fact, there hasn't been a single evidence of any kind of fraud or any problems with the election thus far.” 

Mitchell says that Elder’s embrace of Trump messaging and Republican messaging, like anti-abortion rhetoric in the wake of Texas’ controversial new law, helped mobilize the Democratic base. 

“[It] just freaked out the Democratic base, and allowed the Newsom campaign to point to how electing a pro-life governor in the state would have these huge implications,” Mitchell says. “Those kinds of things I think really helped close that enthusiasm gap and got Democrats energized and wanting to actually vote in this election.” 

Mitchell adds that some California Republicans are trying to appeal to more moderate voters, but feel like their work is being undone. 

Corasaniti says that so far, Republican turnout has been much lower in comparison to 2020 election numbers in both LA County and Orange County. 

“If the Republicans are believing in this election, believing in their chances and enthusiastic about this recall, we will be watching for them showing up at the polls, and it hasn't happened yet,” Corasaniti says. “I think there is a real risk here that this possible 10-20 point lead in the polling for the no side on the recall could get wider if the Republican voters kind of self-select to not vote because of these fraud claims.”