The small faction of Californians who still call themselves Republicans did something seemingly impossible when they forced Gavin Newsom, the Democratic governor of America’s largest Democratic state, to face voters in a recall.
It was a side of California often overlooked: the conservative minority that for decades has been on the leading edge of the Republican Party’s transformation into a vehicle for the anti-establishment grievance politics that swept former President Donald J. Trump into office in 2016. The California conservative movement led a national campaign against affirmative action in the 1990s, later shaped the anti-immigration views of the Trump strategists Stephen Miller and Stephen K. Bannon, and gave rise to a new generation of media heavyweights such as Breitbart News and Ben Shapiro.
But with Mr. Newsom leading the latest polls before the election on Tuesday, some of those same forces have struggled to gain mainstream support for the recall.
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California Republicans lack a single, unifying leader who has the ability to appeal beyond the hard right. The hollowed-out state party has left them with few avenues for organizing in such a vast place. And they have been unable to convert the populist anger at the governor over his handling of the pandemic into a broad-based backlash from voters who are right, left, and somewhere in between. What started as a fringe campaign to flip the highest office in liberal California and upend the national political calculus seemed to be losing steam with Election Day approaching.
Mr. Newsom’s allies blasted the state with advertising that linked the recall to a far-right coalition of conspiracy theorists, anti-vaccine activists, and allies of the former president. And mainstream Republican supporters of the recall said the effort had become saddled with too much of the national party’s baggage.