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Californians Now Casting Their Ballots; Democrats Outnumbered Republicans In California; Polls Still Favor Democrats In California; General Mark Milley Set The Guardrails; California's Recall A Test For Democrats; Larry Elder Leaving A Mark To Remind Voters. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired September 14, 2021 - 22:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (on camera): The sun is setting in California as a high stakes special election enters its final hours. Voters are deciding whether to fire Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom or let him keep his job.

Welcome to our coverage of the California recall.

I'm Jake Tapper in the CNN election center.

We are standing by right now for the first results after polling places close at the top of the next hour. There are two questions on the ballot for Californians. The first asks whether Governor Newsom should be recalled, removed as governor of California. If no wins that, then Newsom remains in office and will hold on the seat for Democrats and dodge a huge defeat in deep blue California.

Now on the other hand, if yes wins, then Newsom is gone. He's removed from office delivering a major victory to Republicans behind the recall drive, and the second question on the ballot asks well, who should replace Newsom if he's recalled? A whopping 46 candidates are on that ballot, most of them Republicans. Conservative talk radio host Larry Elder has emerged as the clear frontrunner despite a history of controversial statements.

The first-time candidate supported former President Trump and is borrowing from his playbook. For instance, making baseless claims of election fraud before one vote has even been counted. Other prominent Republican candidates including former Olympian and reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner, former gubernatorial nominee John Cox, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulkner, and former state assemblyman Kevin Kiley.

There are some Democrats on the ballot as well with YouTube personality Kevin Paffrath considered the leader of the Democrats. Top Democrats are supporting Governor Newsom of course. President Biden and Vice President Harris stumped with him on the closing days of the campaign warning that this election has national consequences and it does. We have correspondents in Newsom headquarters in Sacramento and other

key locations as we track the votes being cast today and the millions of ballots already cast by mail during early voting. First, let's go to Kyung Lah covering Governor Newsom. Kyung?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, the message that we are getting from team Newsom is confidence. The team is feeling confident in this last hour of voting and a top advisor is telling me quote, "the blue tide keeps rising." So, what is he talking about? He's talking about turnout. The campaign is seeing strong turnout across this state, and the anticipation is that they may indeed set a record when it comes to percentages.

What am I talking about? In 2003, the last gubernatorial recall that was a special statewide election record set at 61 percent, 61 percent turnout. Now, this year, there are obviously more registered voters, so we'll have to sort the math at the end of the night when we look at all of the figures.

But what this turnout means is good news for team Newsom because Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one, the more people who vote, the better the numbers for Governor Newsom. And one last thing, Jake, what we are hearing is that pushing the governor over that finish line believes his team is that last-minute appearance by President Biden. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Kyung Lah. Let's go to Stephanie Elam in Orange County which could of course be key in this recall. Stephanie?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, you're right. And part of the reason why it could be key is just what you see here. You see this long line of people. It's only gotten longer as people have finished their workday and they've shown up here.

Orange County is known for being a Republican stronghold. You've got a lot of Republican voters here and many of the people that I have spoken to said that they want to make sure that their vote was counted and that is why they are showing up to do this in person.

We've talked to people who said that they think Newsom has done an awful job, they want him out of the office. We talked to one woman who said this is a giant waste of time because they have an election just next year for the governor's office, and then another person who just said overall, she thinks that this is a good idea because this will make sure that our elected leaders are held accountable either way that this election goes here today.

But this line now is now wrapping around the block. They will come through here just to show you what's going to happen here. These folks are standing in line to make it inside and based on what we've seen before, it's a line about an hour long based on what we've seen, then they go in here to the library. They go inside. They get their ballot. They go to a kiosk, they fill it out and then, just by themselves, they scan it in.

There is someone there to show them how to do it so they are scanning in their individual ballots themselves. But as you can see here, there is a lot of activity in Orange County and obviously, Republicans are hoping that this will break their way in a county that has traditionally gone for Republicans but not always as the demographics has changed here in Orange County, Jake.


TAPPER: Orange County could be key to the results tonight. Stephanie Elam, thank you so much. Let's go to Pamela Brown as she's tracking the ballots out her voting desk. Pamela, what are you going to be looking for tonight?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the big question in the California recall election is who is going to vote? And the Democrats as Kyung pointed out who outnumber Republicans two to one will turn out in the state to keep Governor Gavin Newsom in office for the remainder of his first term.

So, let's take a look at the latest numbers. Keep it in mind that all active registered voters in California receive ballots in the mail and all counties kept one or more early voting locations open at least since last Saturday. So as of Monday, more than 9.1 million Californians had cast their ballots but look at this comparison right here. that is about three million less than the number of pre-election votes cast just before the 2020 presidential election. What is the voter breakdown so far?

Well, as you see majority Democrats who are more likely to vote by mail. And look at this breakdown, nearly identical to the breakdown of pre-election day voters just before the November 2020 presidential election. Jake?

TAPPER: All right. Pamela, thanks so much. Let's go to John King at the magic wall now. And John, what is Governor Newsom's path toward surviving the recall?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, just as we prepare to count votes in about an hour. Just to remind our viewers, keep Newsom as blue. He's a Democratic governor. You want to keep him. You'll see the counties still in blue. If the counties are saying no, we want a recall him, they will fill in red.

So, what does he need to win? As Kyung was just pointing out and Stephanie, California is an overwhelmingly Democratic state. Let's go back to 2018. This is when Gavin Newsom was elected governor. He got 62 percent of the vote against the Republican candidate there.

What Gavin Newsom needs, forget the numbers for a minute, even forget the percentages for a minute. What he needs, Jake, is for the map to look something like this because if it looks anything close to this, he will not be recalled, he will get to finish his term. Why do I say that? You do see a lot of red.

Remember the presidential election, some states even that Joe Biden carried, you see a lot of red, not a lot of people live in the northern part of the state in these rural counties. There are 58 counties in California. This one is the 18th largest. That's not bad. You move up here you get 18 to 58, you come down and you start to shrink these counties as you come through. The population, so what has to happen here?

If the map fills in like this, anything like this, Gavin Newsom continues as governor because of all these red counties, only two are in the top ten. This is the nation's most populous state. Only two. One of them is right here. So, we'll watch Riverside County tonight. It is -- you know, it's the fourth or fifth largest county right there.

You watch that one. The other one that is red on this map that was not red in the presidential election as you come up here and it's Fresno County, the central valley part of the state. A lot of COVID disruption, a lot of the signatures to get the recall on the ballot came in from right here.

So, even here, this was pretty close. Right? It's pretty close. If it's pretty close tonight even if it's red, Gavin Newsom is fine. The people live in the bigger counties here, Los Angeles, this is the number one county in the state by far, this will be a big test for Democrats.

Kyung Lah says the Newsom campaign is confident they are turning out. Here is your big test. Are Democrats turning out or Latinos, the subset of Democrats turning out. We'll leave that here. This is where you just talk to Stephanie, yes, yes, this used to be the bedrock of the California Republican Party, Orange County, Ronald Reagan, the home of the party in those days.

But look. It's 50/50. And if you come back to the -- if you come to the presidential race, it was even more so in Orange County. If there is to be a revolt against Gavin Newson tonight, just about every Republican in California has to come out and vote no.

And then a whole lot of Democrats in a state -- let's go back to the governor's race -- in a state that is overwhelmingly Democratic, not only do all these Republicans have to vote but a lot of Democrats in these blue areas either a combination of staying home or coming out to vote no, there is no evidence of that but we're going to get to count votes pretty soon.

TAPPER: I'm not saying it's the same thing but there was a recall in 2003 and a Democratic governor was replaced by a Republican. So, it can happen even in true blue California.

KING: It can happen. One point, one point since then, let me show this since you asked the question. Even since then, the percentage, this is back then, that was back there 18 years ago. Since then, the percentage of Republicans has dropped.

So, what the Republicans need essentially is not only -- there are fewer Republicans. So back here, Arnold Schwarzenegger had a lot of Republicans who are running against Gray Davis but you're right. They needed some Democratic help and some independent help and they got it back then. Now they need for it to happen this time, they need even more of that, more of a revolt.

TAPPER: All right. As we count down to the polls closing in California, we're getting an early read on what voters are thinking from our exit polls and there is much more of our special coverage ahead. We'll be right back.



TAPPER (on camera): Welcome back. California voters are making a big decision tonight on whether to boot Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom from office or to keep him around. We expect the first results after the top of the hour when polling places close across the golden state. We're getting an early read however on what California voters are thinking as they cast their ballots.

David Chalian is tracking our exit polls. And David, what are you learning?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, we're taking a look at some key political dynamics. You were talking with John King about the Democratic nature of the state of California. That is certainly true. You talked about those registration statistics of Democrats outnumbering Republicans to the one, but what matters, of course, is the electorate that shows up.

So, in this early exit poll numbers we have a sense, 43 percent of the voters in this recall identify as Democrat, 31 percent independent, 26 percent Republican. Not quite the two to one advantage that exists in registration and say it all comes down to turnout.

Take a look also of course at the president's approval rating. You saw him come in at the end of this campaign. Here is why. Fifty-six percent of California voters in this recall approve of the job Joe Biden is doing. That is better as you would suspect in California than he performs nationally with his job approval rating, again, getting at that Democratic advantage that Republicans have to overcome tonight.


Also, just views of each party, what are your views of the Democratic Party, views of the Republican Party? In this electorate tonight those voters participating in this recall, according to these early numbers and this will shift throughout the night, Jake, 52 percent of voters in the recall have a favorable view of the Democratic Party compared to 43 percent who have an unfavorable view.

We'll take a look at how people think about the Republican Party in terms of the voters today in this recall. Only 32 percent of voters in this recall have a favorable view of the Republican Party. Nearly two- thirds have an unfavorable view of the Republican Party.

These are the political dynamics at play and I think it gets at the steep mountain to climb as you noted, Republicans were able to do so in 2003, but this is a steep mountain to climb for Republicans tonight.

TAPPER: All right. David Chalian, thanks so much. Dana Bash and Nia- Malika Henderson and Kasie Hunt, let me start with you, Dana. What are you going to be looking for tonight? Is it just turnout in the big cities or are you going to be looking to see where -- how many conservatives turn out in the red counties?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: All of the above, but what David just showed us was so fascinating when it comes to the California electorate. It may be a telltale sign on what -- at what could to other states where you are seeing a change in demographics.

The Republican Party and I'm going to give credit to our colleague Terrence Burley because he first said this to me, is the third party in California. It's the Democrats and then it's the unaffiliated independents and then it's the Republicans. And it was a decline from the last recall in 2003.

But it just shows how changes can affect things, and it also is a reminder of why Gavin Newsom had President Biden, the vice president and key senators because this is all about making the Democrats who are the vast majority of the electorate in California anxious and worried enough to get out and actually vote, to counter the anger that is very real and very palpable for a lot of reasons in California to counter the anger that people have towards him and for all of the reasons that we know about. And it seems as though, it was the steepest of hills to climb.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: And the anger initially around this recall was over COVID and his handling --

BASH: Exactly.


TAPPER: COVID restrictions, right?

HENDERSON: -- and COVID restrictions.


HENDERSON: People thought he was going too far --


KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Dinner at the French Laundry. Let's not forget that.

HENDERSON: Exactly, clouting the rules personally. So, this is how this gained steam and then the Delta variant came along and things changed all of a sudden, also Larry Elder emerged. But that's what's most interesting to me. That this, again, as was 2020, this seems to be a COVID election. And what was really interesting, it came at a time, Delta came along and then you had the sort of foil that Ron DeSantis was, I think, for this election.

BASH: That's huge.

HENDERSON: Somebody like Greg Abbott in Texas. You saw California do pretty well in terms of vaccine mandates, in terms of mask mandates. Things that were very popular among the constituents there because it allowed them to get back to normal but also stay safe, a situation that's vastly different in places like Florida and Texas.

HUNT: Just to pull the lens out a little bit here and think about, you know, what this means in context those. I have to say and I've been talking to both Republicans and Democrats and they're sort of reading from the same page, which is that this should not have been as hard as it actually was for Newsom in the middle of the summer.

He was coasting along early in the summer. They got a couple of polls that showed in a state -- I mean, David Chalian showed us the numbers here in a state that's overwhelmingly Democratic, he potentially had some real issues and they actually did have to engage. They had to start painting Larry Elder as a Trumpian candidate to galvanize Democrats to get out and vote because they were scared.

TAPPER: And on that point, I mean, as you note, the polls were narrower in the summer and I've heard Democratic consultants say that the best thing that happened to Gavin Newsom was that Larry Elder --

BASH: Yes.

HENDERSON: -- shot up in the polls among the alternatives because that enabled him, instead you might remember a few months ago, he was just like criticizing President Trump --


TAPPER: -- and he's criticizing the recall people and now all of a sudden, you and I have heard Joe Biden say this a million times don't compare me to the almighty, compare me to the alternative.

HUNT: Right. Which is --

TAPPER: Now we had an alternative.

HUNT: At the end of the day, what elections are all about and the fact that Newsom actually had to do that because there was someone who was, you know, actually threatening him enough in that early polling, I think tells you that hey, there was a real risk.

But I think it also shows you a blueprint for both Democrats and Republicans in the midterm elections going forward as well. I mean, just to remind everyone, Larry Elder is a conservative talk radio host, he is well-known among the Republican base in California. He has a long track record of saying really controversial things and so it was pretty easy for the Newsom campaign to say hey, you should be scared of this guy.


So, the reality though, I think for if you look at the swing districts, and Dana, I know, I mean, you've covered so many of these midterm elections and Democrats now are so worried about hanging onto the House, they're likely to lose it.

BASH: Yes.

HUNT: If they are running against an anonymous Republican, there are real questions about whether Democrats can govern in California. Just look at homelessness and COVID and some of these other issues.

BASH: No, you're exactly right. And the way that Newsom adviser described it to me, I thought was really good, that pre-Larry Elder, pre the foils that he had governors in Texas --


BASH: -- and Florida and on COVID, he was punching the air. Gavin Newsom was punching the air. There was nothing really for him to grab on to.


HNT: It was all about the bad foil.

BADH: And then he had somebody --


HUNT: Yes.

BASH: Larry Elder and the others where it personified and exemplified to voters what could be if he actually is --


HENDERSON: Yes. But even I think as it was about Elder, it was also about Trump. Right? This idea, I think probably the best quote from this was from Gavin Newsom saying listen, Trump isn't on the ballot but Trumpism is.

TAPPER: Yes. And we are nearing a critical hour in the California recall when the polls close and first votes come in. Our special coverage continues right after this quick break. Stay with us.



TAPPER (on camera): There is a long line to vote in Huntington Beach as Californians are deciding if Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom stays or goes. Polling places close at the top of the hour in this consequential recall election. The first question on the ballot is the key one asking if Governor Newsom should be recalled, should be removed.

Newsom is counting on the no votes to win allowing him to remain in office, but if a majority of Californians vote yes on the first question, Newsom will be removed as governor and replaced and in that case, question two kicks in. Voters are choosing among 46 candidates there to take Newsom's job if he is ousted.

We are getting a new read of the thinking inside the Newsom campaign. Let's go to Maeve Reston in Los Angeles. Maeve, what are you hearing from the Democrats about Latino turnout today?

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: So, obviously, Jake, this was a huge concern for Democrats as recently as a week ago that they were going to see an underperformance among Latino voters and that community obviously has been hit the hardest by COVID-19.

But there are some signs strategists were telling me today that that has begun to turn around. And if that trend holds like we're seeing in the exit polls where they are a descent share of the electorate, they think that the turning point will be the fact that the governor really ramped up his outreach to that community began talking about Elder's statements on immigration, some of his xenophobic rhetoric. And they're saying that this is a sign now that these voters are coming back to Newsom but saying don't take us for granted.

TAPPER: All right. Interesting, very interesting. Maeve Reston. There is obviously a very different view from the campaign of the top Republican challenger for Newsom's job conservative talk radio host Larry Elder. And Lucy Kafanov is at Elder's campaign headquarters. And Lucy, what are you hearing from team Elder?

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the Elder campaign is describing this as a victory party. We know that Larry Elder is in the hotel here at the Hilton in Costa Mesa. He is watching the returns. He is doing radio interview hits.

We understand that the Newsom camp is suggesting that they are not seeing day of Republican turnout. A surge in that, which is something that Elder would need in order to overcome the early return lead. But a senior aide to the Elder campaign is disputing that characterization.

He is -- of they -- that aide is saying that they are confident that they will see an in-person voter turnout. They would not discuss the campaign's internal targets but the aide said, quote, "we haven't had a recall election here in 18 years." I think what everybody is modelling is off.

Now we understand that the campaign is expecting to see, they're counting on independents turning out for Larry Elder and while they do expect the numbers to show higher for Gavin Newsom initially because of those mail in ballots, we know a lot of the Republican voters say that they will be voting in person and so they expect a surge once the in person numbers are in. Jake?

TAPPER: All right. Lucy Kafanov at Elder campaign headquarters where the band is tuning up, I guess. We're closing in on the end of the voting in the California recall and the first results on the fate of Governor Gavin Newsom. We also have some breaking news on the top U.S. general secret action to try to keep nuclear weapons safe from then President Trump. That's all ahead. Stay with us.



TAPPER (on camera): As we await the results of the California recall we do have some breaking news to share with you, chilling revelations about the top U.S. general's response to the peril posed by Donald Trump at the end of his presidency.

After the January 6th insurrection, General Mark Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staffs took secret action to potentially limit then President Trump's ability to order a nuclear strike or other military strike. He feared that the commander in chief was erratic and potentially would go rogue.

This is one of the headlines from the new book "Peril" by Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward and Bob Costa.

CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel got an early copy of the book. Jamie, tell us about this early -- this meaning that Milley had at the Pentagon.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So, he is concerned about Trump. It's two days after January 6th and these were precautions. He was trying to make sure the guard rails are in place, but it is an extraordinary meeting. He calls in the generals and the colonels who run the Pentagon War Room and he says to them, according to the book, quote, "if you get calls no matter who they're from, there is a process here. There is a procedure. No matter what you're told, you do the procedure. You do the process, and I'm part of that procedure."


He wanted to make sure there were no dangerous or illegal orders. He's looking at Donald Trump. He's worried about January 6th. And he also knows that the Chinese have been rattled by Trump's behavior, and by his failure to concede, and he is making sure every precaution is in place.

TAPPER: And in the book, it speculates that this news might prompt some individuals to criticize Milley for saying -- for saying, for suggesting that Milley overstepped his authority that he was doing something that he doesn't have the right to do.

GANGEL: Correct. Some people may but.

TAPPER: Marco Rubio called for his resignation, I think.

GANGEL: I think there are going to be some politics involved here and I don't think Marco Rubio has read the book yet. I suggest people read the book and look at it in context. It is true that he is not as chairman of the joint chiefs in the chain of command. However, he is the most senior military official. He is the adviser to the president. He has tremendous authority and what he was doing here was making sure the guardrails were up, that there wasn't some kind of accident.

One senior Republican source said to me tonight, quote, "no one should be criticizing Milley. They all knew Trump was bonkers." That's a quote. Milley stood up and took precautions to make sure nothing dangerous or illegal happened. He was just making sure all the procedures and processes were followed.

TAPPER: And we should also note, this came after a conversation that General Milley had with Speaker Pelosi --

GANGEL: Correct.

TAPPER: -- where Milley was saying there are guardrails.

GANGEL: Right.

TAPPER: And Pelosi was saying guardrails, look at what just happened with the riot on the capitol that the president incited. Nobody was stopping President Trump from doing that and that's what prompted Milley to do this.

GANGEL: A hundred percent. He knew China was rattled. He knew what he had seen on January 6th, but he had also now been through months, years of Trump's explosive behavior, and Woodward and Costa write that Millay was increasingly worried that Trump was after the election suffering serious mental decline and that he was unpredictable and unstable.

TAPPER: The book also talks about then Vice President Mike Pence reaching out for advice on what to do in the House of Representatives on January 6th. Trump was suggesting that he had some sort of magic power to overturn the election, which he does not have. What does it say, the book?

GANGEL: So, what the book recounts is a rather striking scene between Mike Pence and he reaches out to former Vice President Dan Quayle.

TAPPER: Dan Quayle.

GANGEL: Dan Quayle.

TAPPER: George W. Bush's vice president.

GANGEL: Right, also from Indiana. And what's striking is that over and over Mike Pence appears to be looking for a way to help Trump. We know that he got to the right place on the 6th. It may be because of Dan Quayle and this conversation.

In the book, quote, "Quayle says to Mike Pence, Mike, you have no flexibility on this, none, zero, forget it. Put it away. Pence comes back, you don't know the position I'm in, Quayle cuts him off. I do know the position you're in. I know what the law is. You listen to the parliamentarian, that's all you do. You have no power."

TAPPER: The wise words of former vice president Dan Quayle.

GANGEL: Correct.

TAPPER: Stick to the Constitution, Pence, and he did. Jamie Gangel, thanks so much.

GANGEL: Thank you.

TAPPER: The polls close in California very soon. Stay with us for the very first votes that will indicate whether or not Governor Newsom stays or goes. We'll squeeze in a quick break. We'll be right back.



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST (on camera): It is crunch time in California as voting winds down to recall election that is deciding if Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom is kicked out of office or not. We are approaching the top of the hour, a little bit more than about 15 minutes away. And polling places close across the state of California and the first votes will be reported.

There is a lot going on. I want to talk with our team right here on the ground. David Axelrod, what are you anticipating for tonight?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, everything is pointed to the governor surviving and if he does, it will be for three reasons. They really followed a textbook, which is one, when you're in trouble, don't let it become a referendum on you, make it a choice.

The second was to make it a partisan fight in a state where you have an overwhelming Democratic edge and the third is, define the choice. Define the stakes. And Larry Elder gave them a good target for that and COVID became the backdrop for it. If you elect this guy, he's going to roll back all these protections, the mask mandates, the vaccine requirements and we're going to be like Florida. We're going to be like Texas, and then, you know, the overlay is Trump as part of this.


AXELROD: So, it's a formula and it took them from a close race in polling to a big lead. We'll see if that lead holds up tonight.

COOPER: Rob Stutzman, when you were involved in the 2003 recall you became the deputy chief of staff for Governor Schwarzenegger. Obviously, this is a very different recall than 2003.

ROB STUTZMAN, FORMER GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF: Yes. There is no Arnold Schwarzenegger for one. But the state is, the growth in Democrat over Republican in the last 18 years is three to one. It's really become out of reach for Republicans.

To have a chance to win in a state like this, you need to follow the playbook of where there is Republicans in blue states like a Larry Hogan of Maryland.


Larry Elder is maybe the maybe the antithesis of that type of Republican. And so, he's played well to the small hardy band of Republican base but it's going to be completely insufficient in a blue state like California on a night like this.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: The only reason there was this recall is because there was a lot of unhappiness with Newsom over the way he had handled the pandemic. Initially they felt it was too big brother, too many restrictions, et cetera, et cetera. Then came the Delta variant and life changed and people were worried about being safe.

And I think right now as we look at results tonight, if we get the results tonight. We're going to have a question about how the public feels in a way, and again, California is a different state about embracing these mandates. You do have two governors' races coming up in New Jersey and Virginia. Both of those governors are very strongly pro-mandate. They are looking at what happens in California tonight to see how that -- how that goes.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think there is a danger of over interpreting a number of things. Assuming that Gavin does well, you could underestimate the amount of misery and frustration at the base for both parties in California because right now you want Larry Elder or not? There are still big, big problems --


JONES: -- baked into that state. You've got wildfires, you've got droughts, you got a pandemic, you've got a lot of discontent. It's just, there is no place to go. You can't go with Larry Elder. So, you can underestimate the amount of pain at the base for the part and you could over estimate the amount of enthusiasm for these mandates with regard to mask and with regard to vaccines.

Liberals and progressives assume that everybody agrees with us but it's not just right wingers that have concerns about these mandates. You also have a bunch of people of color who are still vaccine hesitant. So, it's going to be important, I think, that we don't get out over our skis and over interpret.

But we'll say this. With regard to Gavin Newsom, this guy, his future is on the line today. If he does get beat, he's Gray Davis. Gray Davis is like a forgotten man now in California politics because he was recalled in favor of Schwarzenegger. But if he wins, he's Scott Walker. Scott Walker had to fight off a major recall effort in Wisconsin, did it and then he went on to become a viable presidential candidate. So, if he --


COOPER: I'm not sure he wants to be the new Scott Walker --

JONES: Well, Scott Walker in terms of becoming a national figure.

BORGER: Does the margin matter?

JONES: I think the matter does matter.

AXELROD: We should point out Gray Davis lost to Arnold Schwarzenegger that would be different than losing to Larry Elder.

BORGER: Your person.

COOPER: But what are the ripple effects for Newsom?

STUTZMAN: Well, I think to look where the margin should be. So, California has been a 62, 38 d versus r state in the last two elections. That's how much Newsom won by, that's how much Biden beat Trump by. So, anything less than that 20 to 22 points tonight means he's underperforming really what the baseline should be.

BORGER: So, you're saying if he gets less than a 20-point margin --


STUTZMAN: It goes --

BORGER: I mean, you are overstating that?

STUTZMAN: -- to turnout and turnout mix. But if the recall doesn't go down by 20 points, then Newsom has underperformed really what Democrats should be doing. But California so to your point, Van, about there are these underlying problems that are so frustrating to a lot of Californians.

JONES: I think that's right. I see it slightly differently only in that this is an off year, off month, off the wall election. And so, I do that, you know, Republicans have been much more enthusiastic about the recall the whole time. The Democrats just got into gear the past couple weeks. So.

COOPER: We're going to take a quick break. We're closing in on the first results in the fate of California Governor Gavin Newsom. More on that ahead. We'll be right back.



TAPPER: In California right now, voting is winding down across the state. We are counting down to the first results on whether Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom will be removed from office, recalled. And if he goes, who will replace him? The outcome will have a major impact on the state and on national politics.

The first question on the ballot will decide Newsom's fate. Voters are asked whether he should be recalled, removed. If no wins, then the Democrat will remain in office and his party will avoid an embarrassing defeat in one of the nation's bluest states. But if yes wins, Newsom will be removed. That hands a big win for

Republicans who fought to oust him. The second question on the ballot asks voters to choose if Newsom is removed, who with? There are 46 candidates vying to replace Newsom if he's fired, the top contender according to polls, Republican Larry Elder. He is a conservative talk radio host. Trump supporter and he is known for generating controversy.

As we count down to the top of the hour, let's go to our correspondents who are on the ground in California, first to Maeve Reston in Los Angeles. Maeve, what are you hearing from the Newsom camp about their ground game today?

RESTON: So, one of the reasons that Newsom strategists are so optimistic about tonight's result is because of their ground game here in California which they scrambled to pull together over the last 10 weeks or so when they finally got a date and could tell voters what they would need to do on that date.

When I spoke to the head of Newsom's ground game just a short while ago, she said that they've had real conversations now with about 1.5 million voters over that tiny short period of time. And so that's very unusual for a state campaign here in California where normally all of this just plays out on the airwaves. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Maeve Reston, thanks so much. Let's go to Josh Campbell now, he is in San Francisco. And Josh, how are local officials preps to keep the votes secure as they count the ballots?


JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake. You know, despite this barrage of conspiracy theories that we've heard, officials here have actually been working for months to prepare for the security and the integrity of this election. Officials tell us, for example, that the by mail and in-person voting, it all has extensive tracking logs. A paper trail, if you will.

So, from the scanning to the tabulation to what comes after, all of that has data that surrounds it. We're also told that after election day, a manual count is actually done to ensure that the records that posted on election day and shortly thereafter match what actually happened to these ballots.

We're also told, Jake, that what we will see here shortly, sheriff's deputies escort all of the ballots from the 580 locations where the votes are cast in the city to this location under heavy security, again, to ensure the integrity of this election, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Josh, thank you so much. Let's go to Pamela Brown now. She's tracking the ballots at her voting desk. So, Pamela, when we get the first votes, where are they going to come from?

BROWN: Well, as all eyes are on California right now where polls are just minutes away from closing in the special recall election of the Democratic Governor Newsom. We expect to see our first reports of pre- election votes shortly. But for now, let's just take a look at roughly what we expect to see from the three largest counties in the state.

We're going to start with L.A. and Los Angeles County. We expect about 1.9 million votes. And you go over to San Diego County, we're expecting 850,000 votes there. And then in Orange County, they are about 800,000. Now these first results will give as a look at how well Democrats did in pre-election voting.

So, how fast will results come in? Let's look at the November 2020 election right now. By midnight, Eastern on election night, 56 percent of California votes were counted. And then by noon on Wednesday, 68 percent of votes were counted. So, in the next two hours, we should see a lot of the vote. But if it's close, it could take some time to know the results, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Pamela. Thank you so much. I'm here now with John King at the magic wall. John, walk us through what to expect in the next hour?

KING: Number one, Jake, the great thing about what's about to happen is we get to count votes. So, we get to put to the test all those things the campaign are saying. The Newsom campaign says their turnout machine, participation machine is off the charts. We're going to get to test that. I'll show you where in just a second.

The Elder campaign says no, wait a minute, Republicans are going to turn out in huge numbers on election day so just wait. Don't jump ahead. Well, we'll get to put that to the test pretty soon. So, here's your map of California. As you know, this is a quirky recall. Keep Newsom, recall Newsom. That's the biggest question. Right? That's the biggest question.

Only if yes wins does the second question matter. Now we will get to see these results, we'll get to see what happens. But they don't matter unless yes is in play. Right? But we'll get to see who of the 46 candidates, we show you the top six or so in the polling here. We'll get to this. But it only matters if back on question one. Back on question one.

If yes is in play, as we start to count votes for the night. Now Pam Brown just made a very important point. We lived through this back in November. The first ballots we see will be mail-in ballots. Democrats to have tended to vote disproportionately by mail-in ballots. So, you may see no jump out to a huge early lead, it may hold, it may not so be patient as we count the votes.

So, what are we going to look for? Let's use the 2018 California map. It underscores how steep the challenge is for those who want red tonight. This is the Republican candidate in 2018. Red tonight will be yes on the recall. For the map to be red, the math is just overwhelmingly against Republicans and Democrats and independents who have moved away in California.

So, what are we going to look at? Maeve Reston just said the Newsom campaign thinks it's turning out Democrats. Well, Los Angeles is 26 percent of the statewide population. It is the largest by far of the counties. If Democrats are turning out, we will get evidence of it right here.

Gavin Newsom before he was governor, he was mayor up here in San Francisco. So, in Alameda County, that's Oakland. You come across the bay that's hard to get hides back. Let me pull it out for you. We can do that. We can bring over. It hides San Francisco. All right, Democrat. Look at these percentages. It was 80 percent in the governor's race, 86 percent in the Democrats race.

If Democrats are turning out, if the Newsom campaign is correct, we will see it here. We will also find out not only if Democrat are turning out in high numbers. What percentage of Democrats, what evidence do we get that some Democrats are defecting? How big is that as it plays out?

For yes to have any chance, you see the red on this map, these are the counties that voted Republican back in the 2018 race for governor. Republicans have turn out in overwhelming numbers here especially in the more populous places like Riverside County down here.

Republicans have to have a rebounder. Yes force have to have a rebound in places like Orange County. The numbers have to be overwhelming. Because, Jake, we know this. If it is just Republicans, even if every Republican comes out and votes yes, it won't be enough. There has to be a Democratic revolt and an independent revolt against Gavin Newsom.

TAPPER: All right. John King, thank you so much. We're just moments away from the polls closing in California. Just 17 seconds. The fate of Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom and his party's hold on the top office in that critical blue state is now in the hands of voters.


Now let's get a key race alert. This election is too early to call.