The key to California Gov. Gavin Newsom's fate

A ballot for a recall election seeking to remove California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) is seen in Los Angeles on August 15, 2021.

This story was excerpted from the August 23 edition of CNN's Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.

(CNN)Imagine if you were so fed up with your political leaders that you could get rid of them before the next scheduled election. Well, Californians can.

The Golden State's Democratic governor Gavin Newsom faces what is known as a recall election next month amid what was originally seen as a long-shot bid by conservative activists to oust him. To force the election more than a year before Newsom's reelection race, activists had to gather nearly 1.5 million signatures calling for the governor's ouster.
Voters will be asked on September 14 whether or not to keep Newsom on. Then a second question could come into play: Which of the candidates on the ballot would succeed him?
    Since no party-backed Democrats are competing against their own party's governor, the state could end up being run by a Republican. This scenario led to Terminator star Arnold Schwarzenegger being first elected California governor in 2003.
      Given the political dynamics in California — Joe Biden beat Donald Trump by 30 percentage points last year — the recall shouldn't be close. But Democrats are increasingly alarmed. The state has been pounded by drought, wildfire and the pandemic, with successive waves of infection and restrictions. The governor didn't help himself last year when he went to a birthday party at the exclusive French Laundry restaurant after telling Californians to avoid large gatherings.
        The key to Newsom's fate will be whether apathetic Democrats bother to vote. If he is recalled, even a Republican with a small proportion of the vote could take office.
        Former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner was an early sensation in the race. Another Republican, businessman John Cox, opened his campaign alongside a live bear. But if the governor is toppled, the smart money is now on conservative radio host Larry Elder.
          Elder, who is on the record as saying sexism is exaggerated, opposes most gun control, supports Trump and is a climate skeptic. His extremism might shock Newsom's voters into action. But it's plausible that he could end up running one of the most liberal states in America.

          Afghanistan: 'There are going to be discussions'

          Chaos continued at Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport, where several people were crushed to death this weekend amid desperate crowds waiting for evacuation. As fast as the US and allies rush people onto planes, more keep arriving at the airport's gates. Will Biden still meet his August 31 deadline for US troops to leave Afghanistan? On Sunday, the President left it open-ended: "There's discussions going on in the military about extending," he told reporters Sunday. "My hope is we will not have to extend, but there are going to be discussions."

          Harris heads east

          Kamala Harris is getting a do-over.
          The Vice President's first foreign trip to Guatemala and Mexico was overshadowed by her botched answers about why she didn't visit the US border to assess the surge of attempted crossings by undocumented migrants before venturing to Central America.
          Now, she has embarked on a less contentious mission — to Singapore and Vietnam, two US allies who have no interest in tripping her up. Normally, her trip might not be noticed much in the US — and that would be just fine for the White House as Harris builds foreign policy expertise and confidence. But the debacle of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan means that anything Harris says on that issue will be closely watched. And the many time zones between the VP and Washington means there's plenty of potential for miscommunication and mixed messages.
          Harris will be making the most high-profile attempt yet by the Biden administration to sell its hardline policy towards China in the region. Tensions over territorial disputes in the South China Sea and elsewhere mean a careless word could spark a diplomatic incident.
          A perpetual question of America's allies in the Asia-Pacific region is whether the US is really committed to its allies. Donald Trump's presidency deepened such uncertainty. And Biden's "America is back" mantra has been undercut by the chaotic retreat from Afghanistan. So showing up is important.
            Of course, everywhere Harris goes she will also be evaluated as a potential future US President. Her visit ought to go smoothly, but it's still a tight rope.
            Correction: The top story has been corrected to reflect that while there are Democratic candidates in California's recall election, there is no Democratic Party nominee.