Results of recall vote ending on Tuesday also are likely to influence next year’s US midterm elections, experts say.
Californians are deciding whether to keep Governor Gavin Newsom in his job or to move in a more conservative direction, after a campaign that laid bare divisions in the most populous US state.
Newsom was leading in the polls, but he was still aggressively campaigning and bringing in national Democratic figures to urge voters to reject the recall vote, which ends on Tuesday.
He got a final push late on Monday from United States President Joe Biden, who warned that the contest could shape the country’s direction on the COVID-19 pandemic, reproductive rights and the battle to slow climate change.
The results also are likely to influence the 2022 US midterm elections, when control of Congress will be in the balance again. The party that controls the White House historically loses seats in midterms.
Biden, who defeated Republican President Donald Trump less than a year ago, said the issues that defined the 2020 race have been resurrected in California, with potentially disastrous results if Newsom is removed in the recall vote.
Speaking to hundreds of cheering supporters during a twilight rally in the coastal city of Long Beach, south of Los Angeles, Biden referred to the leading Republican candidate, conservative talk show host Larry Elder, as a “clone” of Trump.
“Can you imagine him being governor of this state?” Biden asked, as the crowd responded with shouts of “No, no!”
“You can’t let that happen. There is too much at stake,” the president said. “The eyes of the nation are on California,” Biden added, saying the recall vote is “going to reverberate around the nation and … around the world”.
California voters have just two questions on Tuesday’s ballot: Should Newsom stay in office? And if not, who should replace him? There are 46 replacement candidates to choose from. If voters keep Newsom, the results of the second question are irrelevant.
In a survey released on Friday by the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, 60.1 percent of likely voters said they favoured retaining the governor while 38.5 percent opposed him staying in office.
Democrats have returned twice as many ballots as Republicans so far in a four-week early voting period, state data showed. Nearly 8.6 million of California’s 22 million voters already have cast mail-in ballots.
Mail-in voting began nearly a month ago, with in-person voting taking place on Tuesday and the polls closing at 8pm local time (03:00 GMT).
James Lance Taylor, a University of San Francisco professor, told Al Jazeera the issues that critics have blamed Newsom for, from immigration to wildfires to gun violence, are not unique to California.
“There is not a single issue that is being attached to Gavin Newsom that is not happening in other states, and Gavin Newsom has actually outperformed everybody,” Taylor said.
The difference, he said, is that California’s constitution allows for a recall without cause. “This is without cause,” Taylor said.
Beyond Elder, other prominent Republicans in the race include former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner and businessman John Cox.
The best-known Democrat is Kevin Paffrath, a financial adviser with a large YouTube following.