Just a few months ago, when it seemed as though the worst of the coronavirus pandemic was behind us, Republican supporters of the recall felt vindicated and optimistic. The fact that so many people were out and about would only embolden the argument that Gov. Gavin Newsom had been too tough in his lockdown orders last year.
Then came Delta.
For a moment, Mr. Newsom’s political future looked bleak: He had only recently proclaimed the start of the “California comeback,” and counties were instead bringing back mask mandates.
Amid a resurgence of cases across the country, Covid deaths spiked in Republican-led states, where restrictions and vaccine mandates were rare. But California, where Mr. Newsom was quick to mandate masks in schools and to require health workers to be vaccinated, saw less dramatic increases.
Now, Mr. Newsom and his supporters have turned the recall into a kind of referendum on pandemic management tactics. In other words, the Delta wave effectively galvanized his voters.
In the closing days of the campaign, Mr. Newsom and his supporters have been more than willing to frame the recall election as a choice between a governor who “follows the science” and favors tight restrictions, and one who would loosen protocols that meant to prevent transmission and deaths.
“There is no more consequential decision to the health and safety of the people of the state of California than voting no on this Republican-backed recall,” Mr. Newsom said during a vaccine event in Oakland this month.
His campaign previously released an advertisement portraying the election as “a matter of life and death.”
The message appears to be working. Several polls suggest that Mr. Newsom will cruise to victory on Tuesday — and his handling of the pandemic has the support of a broad majority of voters.
A poll released on Friday by The Los Angeles Times and the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, found that most likely voters disagreed with the idea that the governor overstepped his authority in his response to the pandemic. The same poll showed that more than 60 percent of likely voters opposed the recall.
Another poll, from the Public Policy Institute of California, found that seven in 10 likely voters say the outcome of the recall election is very important to them. Mark Baldassare, the president of the institute, tied that intense interest to the focus on the pandemic.
“In our most recent poll, Covid is the No. 1 issue for Californians,” Mr. Baldassare said. “In the time of crisis, they feel he’s handling it well and that makes people more risk-averse.”