EXPLAINER: Why no 'winner' to replace Newsom in recall

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — (AP) — The Associated Press declared Tuesday night that Gov. Gavin Newsom had survived a recall effort, with a majority of voters choosing not to oust the Democratic governor with just over a year remaining in his first term.

But it did not name a victor for the second question on the statewide ballot: Who should replace Newsom if the recall were successful?

Voters could choose among 46 candidates, led by a handful of Republicans with enough resources to run a statewide campaign in California's expensive media markets.

The results of that question could provide a sneak peek into the viability of several well-known Republicans heading into next year's statewide general election. Conservative talk radio host Larry Elder had more than 43% of the vote in early returns, easily outpacing the other candidates on the ballot.

But because voters decided not to remove Newsom from office, AP did not declare a “winner” for the second question because the outcome of the second question on the recall ballot was made irrelevant by the outcome of the first.

“We can't declare a winner, because (Elder) didn't win anything. He's not going to be governor,” said Stephen Ohlemacher, AP's Elections Decision Editor. “We always want to be very careful in what we report. And we want to be clear about what we're doing, so when we declare a winner, it's very definitive.”

Newsom had urged his supporters to leave the second question blank, and the votes counted so far suggests they followed that advice. Of the more than 8 million ballots counted as of late Tuesday night, about half didn't include a pick for who should take over in the event the recall had been a success.

When AP reported the recall had failed, “no” on the question of whether to kick Newsom out of office was ahead by a 2-to-1 margin. In the days ahead, as votes cast at in-person polling places on Tuesday are added to the total, that lead will likely shrink, Ohlemacher said.

But AP's analysis concluded that Newsom's lead among votes cast early and by mail — which were the first to be counted on Tuesday night — was far too big for “yes” to catch up.

“They will be counting votes for days. That lead will probably narrow. But it's just so huge right now that there's just not enough votes to be counted to overcome a lead like that,” Ohlemacher said.