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Could conservative radio host Larry Elder actually be the next governor of California?

Emily DeRuy, The Mercury News on

Published in News & Features

Sure, reality star Caitlyn Jenner can command attention, but, Regalado said, her campaign is seen as “quirky.” Most Republicans who are serious about recalling Newsom are looking for someone they view as a serious candidate.

But where Faulconer has taken a more dry, policy-focused approach to campaigning, Elder has focused more on Newsom being the wrong man for the job — which appears to be resonating with Republican voters, who are more engaged with the recall than Democrats.

“It’s not so much the policy sell so far as it is the appeal to the emotion of dislike, the emotion of hate,” Regalado said.

Elder’s campaign did not respond to an interview request.

In the last few days, Elder has taken to Twitter to lambaste Newsom and his team for requiring health care workers to get vaccinated and mandating masks at school. On his website, he labels the sitting governor “arrogant” and accuses him of being “surrounded by an army of radicals for whom climate change is a religion — and growth and development a villain.”

Some of the views he’s espoused in the past are far to the right of where most Californians stand. But that may not matter, since if a majority of voters want to boot Newsom, recall candidates only need to win more votes than their competitors — say, 30%, not a majority.

And Elder’s poll numbers suggest that in the Republican Party today, a polished, effective communicator with a big perch in conservative media may have an advantage over a former mayor like Faulconer or a businessman like Cox, said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles.

“In a more traditional world,” he said, “those are two people who would be hard to beat.”


Still, anything could happen. Some 40% of likely voters in the IGS poll said they were undecided on replacement candidates, and Newsom has raised millions of dollars to pour into campaign ads and voter mobilization efforts. On Wednesday, his team dropped a 30-second spot featuring Sen. Elizabeth Warren urging Californians to mark “no” on the mailed ballots voters will begin receiving in mid-August. But the governor might also go on the attack.

“I would think opposition researchers are seriously going through recordings of old shows, things he may have written, interviews on Fox, and I think you’ll see a pretty steady stream of attacks on Elder,” Stutzman said.

Those could give another candidate space to gain momentum or potentially boost Newsom.

For Sonenshein, a couple of key questions remain unanswered — whether Elder, or someone else, will become a breakaway Republican candidate and whether Democratic enthusiasm for defending Newsom will grow. At the end, everything will come down to turnout — which voters show up and who they pick.

“Is he a flash in the pan? Has he kind of topped out or does he have room to grow?” Sonenshein asked, referring to Elder. “I think there’s a possibility of the second.”


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