Larry Elder, a conservative radio host and lawyer, rapidly emerged as the most serious challenger in California’s recall election with a message that Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom botched his response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Elder criticized vaccine and masking requirements, saying those safety measures should be a matter of personal choice. He also opposed Newsom’s restrictions on businesses, calling them an overreaction that caused unnecessary pain.
Though the latest polls show Newsom was likely to survive Tuesday’s recall attempt, they also indicate Elder struck a chord with many voters in a crowded field of 46 candidates vying to replace the governor.
“Larry Elder will keep businesses open and allow us to have freedom of choice,” said Republican Taylor Livesley, 31, of Carlsbad, who on Tuesday voted to recall Newsom largely because of his response to COVID-19.
If a majority of California voters say “yes” to removing Newsom on the first ballot question, the top vote-getter on the second question will become governor for the remainder of his term ending in January 2023.
Newsom campaign ads have used Elder’s image alongside former President Donald Trump’s in an attempt to motivate liberal voters in the heavily Democratic state.
“We may have defeated Donald Trump, but we have not defeated Trumpism. Trumpism is still on the ballot in California,” Newsom warned voters at a rally with President Joe Biden on Monday.
Elder, 69, in 2019 called the election of Trump “divine intervention” and “a miracle” but has aimed to shift attention away from the former president during the recall campaign.
“To call me a Trump-supporting radio host is a little unfair … call me a Mitt Romney-supporting person, or a George Herbert Walker Bush person. I’m a Republican,” Elder told CNN.
Elder campaign spokesperson Ying Ma said the recall election “has nothing to do with Trump. … It’s about Newsom.”
As with Trump, Elder has been embraced by some conservatives who see his penchant for provocative statements as a refreshing antidote to political correctness. The Republican also has railed against high taxes and government regulations, and takes a tough stance on crime.
The Elder campaign says biased media have attempted to turn voters against Elder and overlooked the diversity of the support base he built after joining the race in July.
“Voters of all stripes have responded with overwhelming enthusiasm to Larry Elder’s candidacy,” Ma said in an email. “Maybe offense wouldn’t be taken if the media weren’t so biased and dishonest when reporting on his statements and positions.”
‘SAGE FROM SOUTH CENTRAL’
Elder, who is Black, has said his views grew out of his parents’ contention that he could overcome racism with hard work and determination.
He calls himself the “Sage from South Central,” referring to a largely African American district of Los Angeles. He left Los Angeles after high school, attended Brown University in Rhode Island and earned a law degree at the University of Michigan.
After practicing law in Cleveland, he returned to Los Angeles in the 1990s and began his career as a radio host, later becoming syndicated nationwide. He is a frequent guest on conservative media outlets such as Fox News.