California’s next governor could possibly be a Black conservative. He would abolish state vaccine and mask mandates. He is critical of gun controls, denies the idea of systemic racism in America, and opposes minimum wage because it tramples on the free market.
The rapid rise of Republican Larry Elder in Sept. 14 recall elections that could see the removal of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s remarkable feat in a state that was once a Democratic fortress, national showcase for liberal policies on immigration, climate change and health care is striking.
Newsom sees Elder as the biggest threat to his election, citing him as a talk radio host. Elder promises to reverse California’s progressive drift, which he attributes to an unrelenting homelessness crisis, high taxes and spiking crime rates, as well as government intrusion into people’s lives. This includes “anti-science coronavirus mandates” to regulations that he claims slow down housing construction.
Elder’s historic win could have wide-reaching implications as it comes on the threshold of the 2022 elections that will determine control of Congress.
A win by Elder would also set off a power struggle between Sacramento’s Democratic state legislature majority and Elder over everything, from government appointments to how taxpayer dollars are spent.
Elder says that California’s young families are leaving the state, and the gasoline taxes are increasing. He is also incompetent. Elder would be the first Black governor in the most populous state in the country. “He has to go.”
The charismatic Elder’s candidacy for the California statewide election in heavily Democratic California may be an afterthought — the GOP has not won a state race since 2006, and Democrats outnumber Republicans almost 2-to-1. Last year, Donald Trump lost the state by over 5 million votes to Joe Biden.
But the unusual math that underlies the rare, late-summer recall election could upend the expected.
Republicans have been imagining for years that a series of crises could lead to a shift in leadership in a state where Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon were born.
Mid-August saw mail-in ballots go out. These ballots are being returned as COVID is once again spiking, and many voters are angry and seeking someone to blame.
Newsom’s whipsaw Pandemic Rules that shut down schools and businesses, as well as the weariness of Newsom’s whipsaw rules, drove the recall. However it is supported by grievances that range in size from frustration at sprawling homeless encampments or soaring housing prices.
The recall election rules are unusual and the GOP’s chances of winning rest on their shoulders.
Two questions will be asked on the ballot. If the majority votes to remove him, the successor will be the one who gets the most votes on question 2. The winner of 46 candidates could receive 25% or less.
This is a rare opportunity to the GOP in a state that has Democrats holding every statewide office, and dominating the Legislature and congressional delegation. Although Republicans make up only 24%, Elder and other conservative candidates have been able to target right-leaning voters in order to gain sufficient support.
Elder quickly surpassed a field that included businessman John Cox and Kevin Kiley, former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer, and former Olympian, reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner.
Newsom was successful in keeping prominent Democrats off the ballot, though YouTube personality Kevin Paffrath has emerged as a potential contender within Newsom’s party.
Elder, a latecomer and first-time candidate at 69, is far from a household name. He’s been a conservative celebrity for years thanks to his provocative radio program, which for many stations is part a lineup of conservative voices that also includes Elder’s mentor Dennis Prager. Elder is a star on Hollywood Walk of Fame with nearly 2 million social media followers.
He is a self-described “Sage of South Central”, referring to the rough Los Angeles neighborhood where his family grew up. His energy and enthusiasm belies his years. He can argue points with the speed and certitude of a lawyer. Elder graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in 1977.
Elder’s most notable headline since entering the race on July 12th was unwelcome. Alexandra Datig (ex-fiancee) claimed Elder was emotionally abusive and showed him a gun in an argument in 2015. Elder refutes this claim.
The allegations have not appeared to have affected his campaign’s progress. He announced endorsements last Wednesday that included Shawn Steel, Republican national Committeeman, and Gloria Romero (ex-Democratic state Senate leader), who both support charter schools as Elder.
His political views are a libertarian perspective that would cause cringes from progressive voters. He believes government has become too big, intrusive, and too expensive.
He opposes government overreach and is against broad mask mandates, the minimum wage, and other government regulations. Roe v. Wade (the 1973 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationally) has been criticized by him. He argued that states should have such restrictions.
Elder acknowledges that climate change is real, but he warns against a war on oil and gas and a shift too quickly to a renewable-energy economy. Elder says this would lead to a loss of jobs and ineffectively keep the lights on.
Elder’s views on race have often put him in conflict with other Blacks. Elder has been critical of Black Lives Matter and called racial-based quotas “a crutch” and “a cop-out.” He also opposes attempts to “defund police.” He said in 1995 that he had stopped moaning, whining, crying, and blaming white men for everything.
Black Democratic leaders held an event recently to decry his views on race.
Malia Cohen, who is a member of California’s State Board of Equalization overseeing the collection of state taxes, said that “He may look like us”, “He may talk like us”, etc.
Newsom, who is currently in trouble, called Elder “more extreme that Trump in many aspects.”
Democrats sought from the beginning to tie the recall campaign to the former president who is popular in the state but not among his conservative base.
Elder refutes the idea that he is a mirror image Trump. He notes that he has broken with Trump on trade — Elder disagreed tariffs and other restrictions imposed former president — and also believed Trump erred in cutting Afghanistan troop levels.
According to Democratic pollster Ben Tulchin, Newsom’s constant focus on Elder is not surprising. This allowed Newsom to “put a face on” the alternative, and recast the race as a referendum on his tenure.
Tulchin stated that there was no clear alternative. “Gavin and the Democrats had difficulty saying, ‘Oppose recall’ because it was so ambiguous.” He can now hold Elder up to define the race in partisan terms.”
The contest is still heavy with unknowns. Mail-in ballots have already been returned.
Elders might be able to benefit from the subtle wrinkles in state voting patterns. California is liberal, but not always.
In 2020, voters rejected an organized labor-backed effort to partially remove the state’s decades old cap on property taxes and reinstate affirmative actions. Republicans won four U.S. House seat.
Elder said he considered the race a long shot due to Newsom’s unlimited funding. He believes that he is the only Republican who will deliver a surprise next month.
He says, “I don’t believe anyone can win except me.”