A defiant Larry Elder conceded his fight to become California’s next governor but indicated his first campaign might not be his last. “Stay tuned,” the Republican talk radio host told supporters.
Governor Gavin Newsom handily defeated a historic recall effort, with results on Tuesday night showing residents of the Golden state opposing the effort to remove him from office in greater numbers than some experts initially expected. But his main opponent, the contrarian libertarian talkshow host Larry Elder, suggested he considered the fight far from over.
Tuesday’s incomplete election results had Elder far ahead among the 46 candidates who had hoped to replace Newsom if the recall succeeded.
Elder told a cheering crowd on Tuesday night that “we may have lost the battle, but we are going to win the war”, hinting at a possible rematch against Newsom when the governor faces re-election next year.
Elder emerged as the unlikely frontrunner in the Republican race to unseat Newsom and could have become the state’s first Black governor.
Eder’s most extreme views are not only out of line with those of the majority of state voters – but also with the views of many of the state’s Republicans.
Elder, 69, was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles. After graduating from Brown University and the University of Michigan, he practiced law for a decade before transitioning to political punditry – landing his own show on KABC in Los Angeles in the early 90s.
In three decades on air, Elder became well known for contrarian, and often extreme, opinions. He opposes the minimum wage and gun control. He has said he doesn’t believe that a gender wage gap exists and has called the climate crisis a “crock”. He has suggested that fatherless families drive up crime rates in Black communities. He has claimed that Black leaders exaggerate discrimination.
His stances against affirmative action and denials of systemic racism drew fierce opposition in the 1990s, with a group of LA residents organizing a two-and-a-half-year boycott of the radio show’s sponsors. Some advertisers did drop the host, but he ultimately prevailed. His show was syndicated, and he started building a huge national radio audience, making frequent appearances on Fox News and cultivating his brand of libertarianism.
Elder had entered the recall campaign just days before the filing deadline but zoomed to the top of a long list of candidates running against Newsom.
“He’s been on the radio for 27 years, down in LA, talking man-bites-dog politics that are ironic and contradictory,” James Lance Taylor, a political scientist at the University of San Francisco, told the Guardian last month. “And in some ways, the only reason why he’s able to say much of what he says is because he’s Black … he uses his race as a weapon.”
Earlier this year, Elder blamed Barack Obama for the deaths of George Floyd and other Black men, writing that the former president should have encouraged citizens to better “comply with the police” to avoid being shot.
During his concession speech on Tuesday, Elder again argued that racial divisions in America are wildly overblown.
He referred to the “bogus Black Lives Matter movement”, restated his doubts about systemic racism and said: “We know what the real problems are, and they have nothing whatever to do with racism.”
Appearing to address his critics, Elder added: “All they want is Black people to think about is oppression, that you are under siege, that you are a victim. Really? In 2021, after we elected the first Black president?”
Elder urged supporters to be “gracious in defeat” but spent much of his half-hour speech ridiculing Newsom’s leadership and character and faulting him for rising crime, an unchecked homeless crisis and housing costs that are out of reach for many working-class families.
Elder sounded at times as if a campaign was starting, not ending.
Many of Elder’s views and policy platforms fall in line with those of Donald Trump. He has backed Trump’s migrant family separation policy and become a mentor to the architect of the previous administration’s harshest anti-immigrant policies, Stephen Miller. He has repeatedly claimed that Black people are more prone to crime and violence than other demographic groups, and echoed Trumpian lines that characterized Latino immigrants as criminals.
Although he initially said that Biden had won the election “fairly and squarely”, he has taken to repeating election fraud conspiracy theories. And taking cues from the former president, Elder sowed mistrust in the recall election system in the final weeks of the race, especially as he appeared to slip in the polls. He claimed “shenanigans” could skew the results of the race, and his campaign website linked to a “Stop CA Fraud” site where people could sign a petition demanding a special legislative session to investigate the “twisted results” – days before any results were announced.
Elder’s positions prompted Newsom and his Democratic allies to cast him as Trump’s successor. Speaking at a rally with Newsom in Long Beach on Monday, Joe Biden had warned that the outcome of the recall race could reverberate far outside of the Golden state. “Can you imagine him being governor of this state?” Biden asked.
Elder on Tuesday argued he was working to bridge differences. “I’m a uniter,” he said. “We are going to bring this country together.”