Refresh for updates… 2nd UPDATE, 8:19 PM PT:  Los Angles County has rejected the recall of Gavin Newsom in a big way – at least in the mail-in ballots

Preliminary results out of California’s and America’s most populous county have the No vote at 76% and Yes at 23%. Approximently 1.8 million mail-in ballots were sent in before the polls closed just minutes ago. Those mail-in ballots represent about 1/3 of eligible voters in the County.

More numbers are coming in fast in the nation’s largest state, even as Larry Elder and other Republicans are already kicking up Trump dust of fraud and “shenanigans.” Even GOP stronghold Orange County has Newsom’s No vote in the lead in early data.

If his growing lead holds, Gov. Newsom is anticipated to address supporters later in the evening in person. Radio host Elder is expected to be talking to lawyers.

1st UPDATE, 8 PM PT: Polls have closed in California’s recall election, with networks holding off making projections of a winner in a race too early to call.

On CNN, Jake Tapper said that the race was too early to call but said that exit polls said that it would be a good night for Governor Gavin Newsom. In early vote totals Newsom led by about 61% to 39%.

Voters were still in long lines in some areas around the state shortly before the polls closed at 8 PM PT. Still, minutes after the clock hit 8 PM on the West Coast, big counties like San Diego and Ventura were announcing votes – which where looking strong for Newsom. More results from Los Angeles County, which has 25% of the state’s voters, are expected soon.

Newsom, with a large campaign war chest, was seeking to retain his governorship. The recall started amid disenchantment over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, but gained momentum after he dined at a posh restaurant amid Covid-19 restrictions on large gatherings and social distancing.

The recall asked voters two questions: One, should Newsom be recalled from office? Two, who should replace him?

Republican radio talk host Larry Elder was leading in the polls among the 46 candidates vying to replace Newsom, but that question is moot if voters decided to keep the current governor.

PREVIOUSLY: In a state dominated heavily by Democrats, Gavin Newsom’s future is at stake tonight as California’s recall election comes to a close, with the first vote counts expected just after 8 p.m. PT.

But the results also may offer a glimpse of Republicans’ strategy if, as polls suggest, incumbent Gov. Gavin Newsom is able to defeat the attempt to oust him from office with just over a year left in his term.

First and foremost is the prospect that the results of the election will be challenged, as has been suggested by conservative radio host Larry Elder, the leading candidate to replace Democrat Newsom. His campaign put up a website Monday that was a petition to call on the state Legislature to investigate the results, presuming that Hollywood supported Newsom would be declared the winner.

Elder himself has suggested “shenanigans” might be at work with mail-in voting, taking a page from Donald Trump’s playbook of questioning the integrity of the results even before the first vote has been counted. Earlier this summer, California election officials mailed ballots to all of the state’s registered voters.

As if gathering new fuel for his unfounded claims that the 2020 election was stolen, Trump has seized on the state’s recall, saying that “what’s going on right now in California with the mail-in ballots and all the crap that they’re doing.”

Tim Miller, political analyst and columnist and former political director of Republican Voters Against Trump, said that if the election is not close and Newsom wins by a wide margin, “How can you get any traction” by claiming the election was rigged. The argument seems rooted in the idea that “mailing a ballot to every person is asking for fraud,” even if the claims are unproven.

Yet following Trump’s lead, Republican politicians have seen that they “suffer no consequences for saying it was stolen.”

Newsom’s team has been very confident of a victory — not just because of the polls but in actual ballots returned.

Democrats have an advantage in registration and, according to the latest numbers, in ballots returned so far. According to Political Data Inc., 9.4 million of 22.3 million two-question ballots had been returned. Of those, 4.8 million came from registered Democrats, 2.5 million from registered Republicans and 2.1 million from independents.

According to CNN, exit polls tonight from Edison Research showed that the coronavirus as the most important issue to Golden State residents in the recall. Homelessness and the economy follow, with far less of a hold on the public consciousness. Even though it was Newsom’s handling of the pandemic response that initially fueled the recall, the exit polls gave him some reason for optimism, as it showed that 39% believed that the coronavirus situation was getting better, 30% thought it was staying the same and 24% thought it was getting worse.

In the state that elected Ronald Reagan to Sacramento twice, Republicans gauge the economy as the top issue in the tax-heavy region, even as things have picked up considerably in recent months out of the health crisis and public coffers are almost overflowing. Elder and other Republicans have hammered Newsom and Sacramento Democrats on taxes and regulation.

The question is whether Trump’s involvement in the race will be a help or a hindrance to the recall’s prospects. He might be helping to motivate his own MAGA supporters with new claims and conspiracy theories — or it might end up depressing turnout among Republicans.

On Tuesday, following a rally in San Francisco, Newsom told NBC News, “They are quite literally trying to dismantle democracy and trust in this country, in this very nation.” The governor said the irony was that it was “going to hurt the Republican Party because they are telling their voters their vote doesn’t matter. So it’s a helluva thing.”

President Joe Biden campaigned for Newsom on Monday night, giving a speech in which he said that Elder was a Trump “clone.” Democrats haven’t missed many opportunities to make the race as a kind of proxy battle between Biden and Trump, who remains an unpopular figure in the state. Having racked up deep pocket donations from Disney and other studios through the Motion Picture Association, plus Comcast and a slew of individual Tinseltown donors, Newsom garnered get-out-the-No-vote backing from some big names today:

Even with millions of mail-in ballots already sent in, the call to action on both sides of the recall seemed to be reflected in lines at voting centers, as director, producer and ex-BET boss Reggie Hudlin made clear today:

The recall was treated like a pre-midterm election by cable news as a rolling segment throughout the day on Fox News, MSNBC and CNN, which even had a right screen of a clock counting down the hours until the polls close at 8 p.m PT.

Leaning into the unfounded voter fraud narrative that Elder and others in the Golden State were declaring long before the polls actually closed, Fox News moved Martha MacCallum out to the West Coast for her daytime show The Story. On MSNBC, The Beat host Ari Melber made an overwrought comparison between the Republican-fueled effort to dethrone Newsom to Chile’s decisive 1988 national plebiscite on keeping General Pinochet in power or not. For the record, the dictator lost, and democracy returned to the South American country — which seems to mix the metaphor even more.

In an amusing and confusing aside, Fox News aired a rather effective Elder ad during the day that actually was not for the radio host’s campaign. With the firebrand Republican seen serenely strolling along a beach, playing with his dog and looking relaxed in shorts, the ad was for Relief Pain, a drug-free ailment reliever that Elder has been shilling for over the years.

On Tuesday evening, a number of pundits talked of how Newsom was in trouble, until Elder emerged as the leading candidate to replace him, as it fed into a strategy of making the race about supporters of Donald Trump trying to score a win in a deeply blue state. But Elder said that he isn’t going away. “I have now become a political force here,” he told a Fresno radio station on Tuesday. “I am not going to leave the stage.”

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