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For Calif. Gov. Newsom To Stay In Office, He Needs Latinos To Vote

NOEL KING, HOST:

In less than a week, residents of California will vote on whether to recall their governor, Gavin Newsom. Republicans want to recall Newsom mostly over how he's handled the pandemic. In one case, he ignored his own health directive and went to a dinner party at a fancy restaurant without a mask. Now, to avoid the recall, Newsom will need support from Latino voters in places like Imperial County along California's southern border. Here's Guy Marzorati from member station KQED.

(SOUNDBITE OF SUPERMARKET AMBIENCE)

GUY MARZORATI, BYLINE: On a sweltering Saturday morning in El Centro in California's Imperial County, most shoppers outside a local supermarket were more concerned about their ice cream melting in the triple-digit heat than the recall election. Those who knew that voting is underway, like Rosalba Jepson, a teacher, had mostly made up their mind in one direction.

ROSALBA JEPSON: Yes, get rid of him.

MARZORATI: This last year has been hard, says Jepson, who thinks Newsom didn't go through struggles like she did - adjusting to distance learning on the fly.

JEPSON: Nobody paid me that extra time, and then he's enjoying all this. So I - you know, I just don't think he's a good leader.

MARZORATI: To stay in office, Newsom will have to turn out Democratic voters and keep the state's Latino electorate aligned with the party. That's especially true here in Imperial County, a historically blue area where 85% of residents are Latino.

STEVEN MIRELES: We are a border region, and so, really, that colors the way that we view our politics.

MARZORATI: Steven Mireles is with the county Republican Party. He says a key reason that Trump did so much better here in 2020 than in 2016 was his focus on the border.

MIRELES: And we certainly saw that in terms of the money that was coming into to the region to kind of secure our border, upgrade our fencing.

MARZORATI: Hiring more Border Patrol workers and upgrading technology means jobs and easier cross-border commutes in Imperial County. Trump also showed up. In 2019, he paid a visit to El Centro and Calexico.

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DONALD TRUMP: So behind us is the wall.

MARZORATI: In 2020, Republicans made gains across the country in Latino communities like Imperial County, where they invested time and resources, says Sonja Diaz, founding director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA.

SONJA DIAZ: That does not necessitate that Latinos are somehow more Republican than they ever have been. But it provides this really clear and explicit recognition that in order to engage them, you have to actually invest in them.

MARZORATI: The Newsom campaign is hoping millions of dollars invested in Spanish language ads and Latino-focused outreach will help the governor keep his job. Because in Latino communities like Imperial County - still overwhelmingly Democratic - the party has a turnout problem. The share of registered voters who cast a ballot in Imperial was the lowest of any county in California in both 2018 and 2020. And now comes the recall election with its own barriers. It's a unique ballot in an off year happening in September, not a typical month for elections.

RAUL URENA: Right now, most people don't even know what the recall is about.

MARZORATI: That's Raul Urena. He won a nonpartisan seat on the Calexico City Council last year at age 23, with 70% of the vote. To win over constituents like his, Urena says the governor needs to remind voters of the recall campaign's original emphasis on immigration.

URENA: It's not about COVID. It's not about stealing money. It's the proponents of this measure think that Governor Newsom is helping illegal immigrants too much and all of this racist rhetoric that is coming out.

MARZORATI: And, Urena says, the governor should come visit. For NPR News, I'm Guy Marzorati in Calexico. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.