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AP provides standout coverage of California’s recall campaign, fast call on election night

California Gov. Gavin Newsom addresses reporters at the California Democratic Party headquarters in Sacramento, Calif., Sept. 14, 2021, after beating back the recall attempt that aimed to remove him from office. The rare, late-summer election emerged as a national battlefront on issues from COVID-19 restrictions to climate change. (AP Photo / Rich Pedroncelli)

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The effort to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom started as a longshot in 2020, gained momentum through the fall and winter, and seemed an actual possibility by summer. But it ultimately ended in lightning fashion, with standout coverage and a quick and decisive victory called by AP for the first-term Democrat.

The recall election was only the second in California history and fourth nationally. Forty-six potential replacement candidates qualified for the ballot. Kathleen Ronayne, AP’s Sacramento correspondent, and Michael Blood, a national political reporter based in LA, were AP’s reporting points, producing dozens of stories. In the last month, as the world took greater notice, they ramped up with an array of spot news, strong enterprise and accountability pieces.

Following 18 months of build-up, the recall effort was declared a failure just 46 minutes after polls closed thanks to AP’s race-calling team of decision editor Stephen Ohlemacher and Los Angeles-based investigative reporter Justin Pritchard, who has been one of the designated race callers in California for the last several elections.

Days earlier,LA video journalist Eugene Garcia had come up with a major assist on the final weekend of the campaign, when Ronayne secured a long-sought on-camera AP interview with Newsom — it would produce the governor’s first direct response to claims made by actress Rose McGowan about Newsom’s wife. Newsom told AP it was a hit job.

The governor’s office had strung along Ronayne for weeks about the interview,then finally agreed to a sit-down,only to change the timing at the last minute. Blood was supposed to conduct the interview but was already at another event and couldn’t get there in time. Garcia raced to where Newsom was,then used Blood’s questions while videotaping the governor. Garcia quickly got quotes to Blood, who wrote the story as Garcia produced the video piece.

On a planning call Tuesday,shortly before polls closed,Ohlemacher said he and Pritchard would go slowly if the early returns were unexpectedly close. However,an analysis of mail ballots returned in the days and weeks before election day suggested a decisive victory for recall opponents,which could lead to a quick race call.

That’s what happened.

AP’s vote count team headed by Don Rehill,director of election tabulations and research; Lauren Johnert,manager for election research/quality control; and Peg Coughlin,California’s election coordinator, produced an avalanche of data and quick vote tallies for Ohlemacher and Pritchard to pore over and make the call.

Only nine minutes earlier, West Desk editor Courtney Bonnell had filed a writethru saying Newsom had an early lead. She quickly pivoted and just a minute after the Alert moved with AP’s race call she had a full story on the wire. Ronayne continued updating the story with reaction and more details. Blood did a quick spot piece on the concession of Newsom’s main rival,Larry Elder, and then turned attention to a story looking at how Newsom won. National political reporter Nick Riccardi pulled together five takeaways from the election.

On the morning after the election,those pieces accounted for five of the six most viewed stories on apnews.com.

For delivering a quick race call and outstanding spot,breaking news and analysis of the election,the team of Ronayne,Blood,Garcia, Ohlemacher and Pritchard is AP’s Best of the Week — Second Winner.

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