California Governor Gavin Newsom appears to have survived a rare state-wide vote to remove him with a clear majority, US media report.
Republicans launched the election campaign in response to his handling of the pandemic.
The Democrat, who is in the third year of his four-year term, faced a field of 46 candidates and was expected to win easily.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris both campaigned alongside Mr. Newsom ahead of the election.
CBS, the BBC’s US partner, predicts that the governor will win, with roughly two-thirds of voters supporting him and more than 60% of the vote counted.
“I’m humbled and grateful to the millions and millions of Californians who exercised their fundamental right to vote,” Newsom said during his victory speech in Sacramento.
The outcome has been closely watched as a predictor of national elections in 2022.
Mr. Newsom’s main opponent, conservative radio host Larry Elder, claimed that the election was rigged even before the polls opened.
On the eve of the recall election, Mr. Biden appeared at a rally alongside Mr. Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor, to tell voters that their vote would “reverberate around the world.”
The campaign to unseat Mr. Newsom has been fueled by increasingly partisan politics, but gained traction after he was photographed dining at a posh restaurant while urging Californians to stay home to avoid spreading disease. Covid-19.
He apologised for his “bad mistake,” but some voters saw his actions as hypocritical.
Nearly 1.5 million signatures were gathered by petition (equivalent to 12% of the 2018 vote), clearing the way for an election to determine whether Californians wanted Mr. Newsom to stay in office or replace him.
Mr. Newsom faced a motley crew of conservative challengers, including reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner, who disappeared from the campaign trail to film Celebrity Big Brother in Australia.
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Republican John Cox attracted attention for travelling with a live Kodiak brown bear as part of his “unleash the beast” campaign, casting himself as the “beast” to Mr. Newsom’s “beauty.”
California has the largest state population in the United States, 22 million registered voters, and the world’s fifth largest economy.
In national elections, the Golden State has been firmly Democratic, but the state does have large Republican regions. Six million people voted for Donald Trump in 2020, giving Mr. Biden a 29-point victory in the state.
Since the 1960s, there have been consistent efforts to remove California governors through the recall process, though many do not qualify for a vote.
When California last held a gubernatorial recall election in 2003, voters ousted an unpopular Democratic governor and replaced him with Republican bodybuilding actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Fellow Ronald Reagan, a Hollywood actor, began his political career as a Republican governor of California before becoming President of the United States for eight years, from 1981 to 1989.
Embattled governor heaves sigh of relief
Sophie Long, BBC News, Los Angeles
As polls closed across California, the Golden State’s governor was probably breathing a little easier than he would have a couple of months ago. At the start of August, polls suggested that this could be an unexpectedly close race.
And it wasn’t just Gavin Newsom who was perspiring in the sweltering summer heat of California.
If he loses this recall election, it will not only end his political career; it will also result in a hand-break turn for California’s political trajectory, with a new Republican Governor elected by a tiny proportion of the state’s 22 million voters. And this could have far-reaching consequences on a national scale.
Diane Feinstein, California’s senior senator, is 88 years old. If she were unable to complete her term after a new Republican Governor was inaugurated, they would appoint her replacement, effectively eliminating the Democrats’ voting majority of one in the Senate.
What began as a grassroots recall campaign quickly turned into a referendum on the Democrats’ handling of the coronavirus. Strategists on both sides will now be looking for clues about how their respective national pandemic policies are playing out in marginal congressional districts.
This is, in a sense, a warm-up run for next year’s mid-term marathon.