Recall Elections: What made California different and what to know going into 2022

AAPC followed up with Democratic consultants working in California to get their takes on what made the Newsom recall campaign different than any other. Read below for insights from Brian Brokaw, political advisor to California Governor Gavin Newsom and Ace Smith, Partner at Bearstar Strategies and Strategist for Governor Newsom.

How does a recall election differ from the regular election cycle? (i.e. campaign finance, timeframe, messaging, strategy, etc.)

Brian: Too many ways to list them all! Some key differences — the typical election year campaign contribution limits do not apply in a recall. We were able to accept six, seven figure contributions. The recall date isn’t known until only several months out, so you have to plan and execute in a much shorter time frame. It’s more like a “snap election” in a parliamentary government than a typical election.

Ace: Traditionally paid persuasion is mainly about persuading folks how to vote – this election required us to use paid communications to persuade people to get out and vote. Because the recall was an off-year election, on a non-November date we spent many of our resources letting voters know: There is an important election on September 14th.

What are the challenges associated with recall campaigns? How do you overcome these challenges?

Brian: First and foremost — we had to motivate voters to vote “NO” on the recall. In other words, we had to turn out voters and convince them to take action to oppose something that they didn’t believe should be happening. It’s a much different and more complicated exercise than motivating voters to take action FOR something. Additionally, two questions appear on the California gubernatorial recall ballot. The first asks if the governor should be recalled. The second question is contingent on passage of the first question, and lists the dozens of replacement candidates. So we had to persuade and turn out voters to vote NO on the first question, and then encouraged them to leave the second question blank. There was a lot of potential for voter confusion, but judging by the final results, confusion wasn’t an issue in this race.

Ace: The biggest challenge was to never allow this election to become a referendum on the Governor, but instead make it into a clear choice between the Governor and Larry Elder.

What was the impact of the September 14th recall election in California?

Brian: Not only did Governor Newsom defeat the recall — he defeated the recall by a resounding margin. As a result, he emerges from this recall in a position of strength as he heads into a re-election year in 2022.

Ace: The largest impact will be felt way beyond the borders of California. People across the country now understand that you can be bold on COVID mandates and not suffer politically. In fact it was our experience that COVID mandates were a central driver for voters in the election.

How does a recall effort in 2021 impact the 2022 midterms in California?

Brian: A number of factors will impact the 2022 midterms, including redistricting, national politics, COVID, the economy, etc. But the failure of the recall does not bode well for California Republicans. The California Republican Party is in disarray and will still need to find candidates to run in the 2022 statewide elections.

Ace: The issues around COVID that we surfaced during the recall election will remain a rallying point for Democrats in the midterms. Additionally, this off year election allowed Democrats to run an unprecedented field campaign which will pay political dividends for some time to come.

AAPC Urges Meta to End its New Ill-Advised and Harmful Restrictive Ad Policy

Alana Joyce
Executive Director
+1 703-245-8021

For Immediate Release
November 11, 2021

AAPC Urges Meta to End its New Ill-Advised and Harmful Restrictive Ad Policy

Washington, D.C., (November 11, 2021) —The American Association of Political Consultants (AAPC) urges Meta to reverse its latest restrictions on free speech that will directly limit the ability of people to participate and learn about the candidates and policy issues that matter to them.

As the only bipartisan organization representing political campaign professionals, we know that these limits will gag legitimate candidates and organizations, while doing nothing to crack down on anonymous accounts devoted to spreading inflammatory and false information. We urge Meta to put an end to this ill-advised and harmful policy.

The main source of news and opinion for millions of Americans, Meta has a responsibility to provide fair access to fully disclosed campaign and policy advertising by legitimate candidates and organizations, while investing to stop dangerous and reckless fake misinformation accounts.

Social media and the cost-effective advertising available on Facebook’s platform have fueled many first-time candidates, advancing our democracy. Meta’s ban makes it less likely that first-time candidates with limited resources will advance in the political process.

We look forward to working with Meta, other technology companies and our Nation’s lawmakers to put an end to these discriminatory bans that harm the advancement of candidates seeking to advance our democracy.

About AAPC
Founded in 1969, the AAPC is a multi-partisan organization of political and public affairs professionals dedicated to improving democracy. The AAPC has over 1,500 members hailing from all corners of the globe.  It is the largest association of political and public affairs professionals in the world. For more information, see


Recall Elections: Perspectives from California Professionals

This week, we reached out to California professionals Natalie Blanning Weber and Dave Gilliard of Gilliard Blanning & Associates and Joshua Spivak, Senior Fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Center for Government Reform and author of “Recall Elections: From Alexander Hamilton to Gavin Newsom” to discuss the intricacies and implications of recall elections and give us some insight into the current fight in California.
How does a recall election differ from the regular election cycle?
Natalie and Dave: First, it takes about 2 million total signatures on official petitions to force an election. Obtaining these signatures, especially during the COVID crisis, was an extraordinary challenge. We used Direct Mail and a massive volunteer force. Once the Recall Election qualifies, the timeframe quickens. Candidates have no time to build name ID and fundraising is a huge challenge.
Joshua: Recalls have a very compressed time frame, which makes it quite difficult for officials targeted. In some states, including California and Wisconsin, the campaign finance laws are very different than in other elections. Essentially, there are no limits on fundraising for the target (in California, it is treated as a ballot measure). The result is that the target (Newsom) can raise unlimited funds. Every recall target uses the argument that the recall is a waste of money and an abuse of the process. Sometimes this works, but most of the time, it does not — over the last 10 years, 60% of recall elections have resulted in removal and 6% have led to resignations.
What are the challenges associated with recall campaigns? How do you overcome these challenges?
Natalie and Dave: The YES side has one real advantage – it starts with a lead, in our case a lead of 2 million votes – those who signed the petition. For both sides, the calendar and fundraising are the two biggest challenges. There is little time to educate voters about the recall process, the timing, the importance of voting, etc.
Joshua: The big challenge is turnout. The recall proponents have a “movers’ advantage,” as they are already engaged and enraged. The targeted official must make sure their supporters get to the polls. Notably, in the three previous gubernatorial recall elections, turnout shot up from the last mid-term election.
What are your projections for the September 14th recall election in California?
Natalie and Dave: Question one will be very close. California is a deeply blue state, but with a large percentage of voters highly dissatisfied with the state of affairs – from crime, to homelessness to the cost of living. Californians are paying $5 a gallon for gas! With fires raging and water being cut-off to farms, voters are angry. Republicans are highly motivated to vote in the recall, and Gavin Newsom has a serious problem with his own base. Independents, a key group in California elections, are split evenly. A Republican will take question two.
Joshua: The polls have been moving in a favorable direction for Republicans and supporters of the recall. However, these polls seem to be focused on likely voters. It is not clear how well that screen works, especially with ballots already mailed to people’s homes. By virtue of being in California and the campaign finance rules, Newsom has some significant advantages. What is very different from the Gray Davis recall and the Gavin Newsom one is how much more “blue” California has become. In 2002, Gray Davis won election with 47%. Since you need 50% to survive the recall, Davis was already 3% underwater on day one. Newsom won with 62% of the vote. So he has a 12 point cushion, which is a great advantage.
How does a recall effort in 2021 impact the 2022 midterms in California?
Natalie and Dave: If Gavin Newsom is recalled it will send shockwaves across the nation, especially in progressive circles and, hopefully, rebalance things in California, where hope will be restored for Republicans.
Joshua: It is not clear at this time. It could be that if Gavin Newsom does well, the Republicans will not be able to get a high-quality candidate at the top of the ticket (or even get shut out of the top two race). The result could damage them down ballot. However, it is also likely that it has no impact whatsoever. In 2012, Scott Walker fended off a recall in June. It would be hard to claim that this race helped the Republicans in November, when Barack Obama won Wisconsin.