Gavin Newson
© Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Gov. Gavin Newson of California
Democratic Gov. Gavin Newson of California is in the fight for his political life, and according to one new poll, it could go either way.

Opponents of the governor, who made several major missteps as he locked down the entire state during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, collected enough signatures to secure a recall election on Newsom.

"Californians who say they expect to vote in the September recall election are almost evenly divided over whether to remove Gov. Gavin Newsom from office, evidence of how pivotal voter turnout will be in deciding the governor's political fate, according to a new UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times," the paper wrote on Tuesday.

"The findings dispel the notion that California's solid Democratic voter majority will provide an impenetrable shield for Newsom, and reveal a vulnerability created by a recall effort that has energized Republicans and been met with indifference by many Democrats and independent voters," said the Times.

The poll found that 47% of likely voters in the state support removing Newsom from office, while 50% oppose the move — "a difference just shy of the survey's margin of error," the Times noted.

Conservative talk radio host Larry Elder is the top Republican in the race to replace Newsom in the Sept. 14 special election.

Organizers of the recall petition to oust Newsom topped the 1.5 million signatures they needed to force the vote. The "Recall Gavin Newsom" campaign, which sells merchandise like coronavirus face shields emblazoned with the slogan, in December won a court case to extend the signature deadline from Nov. 17. A Superior Court judge ruled that the pandemic hurt efforts to circulate petitions.

A series of missteps by Newsom has helped the recall effort, putting Newsom in danger of being the state's second Democratic governor in 17 years to be recalled. In 2003, former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis was ousted in a recall effort largely fueled by residents upset with skyrocketing energy bills.

"You just can't underestimate the depth of people's anger," former top Davis aide Susan Kennedy recently told The Associated Press. She thinks Newsom, whose approval rating has dropped to 59% from as high as 70%, could rebound, depending on how well he handles the vaccine distribution and the economic recovery from the pandemic.

Newsom's troubles started in November 2020 when, amid rising COVID-19 infections, he declared he was putting an "emergency brake" on reopening the economy. "California is experiencing the fastest increase in cases we have seen yet - faster than what we experienced at the outset of the pandemic or even this summer," he said. "The spread of COVID-19, if left unchecked, could quickly overwhelm our health care system and lead to catastrophic outcomes."

Newsom's regulations in November put 41 of the state's 58 counties in the most restrictive of the four-tier system, which affects 37 million residents. The move stopped reopening plans, banned indoor worship, shut down many businesses, and closed schools.

Days later, Newsom and his wife attended a birthday party with a dozen friends at the expensive French Laundry restaurant in Napa, north of San Francisco. The governor said the dinner, for a lobbyist friend, was outdoors, but pictures told a different story.

Newsom eventually apologized. "I made a bad mistake," he said. "I should have stood up and ... drove back to my house. The spirit of what I'm preaching all the time was contradicted. I need to preach and practice, not just preach."

Newsom has made other mistakes. In July, Newsom ordered certain businesses across 19 counties to scale back their operations, including restaurants, wineries and tasting rooms, movie theaters, family entertainment centers, zoos and museums, card rooms, and bars.

However, Newsom's own winery and tasting room in Napa Valley was allowed to stay open. Madera County wineries were exempt from the order because it was not one of those on the list.

Newsom also owns stock in PlumpJack Group, which includes a winery in Napa Valley's Oakville, FOX26-TV reported.