The emergence of 69-year-old talk show host Larry Elder as the leading candidate to depose California’s Gavin Newsom is both odd and significant. Elder is no one’s idea of a politician, and when he called me for advice at the start of his run, I was perplexed. I thought Larry had it all — the nest egg, nice house, successful career.
Newsom, who I once described as Governor Preen, and his operatives in and out of the media, have already started attacking Elder. Under the talk show host, they claim, abortion rights will be restricted and the state’s crusade against climate change and social justice will be hampered. The irony is in the fact that Elder will be attacked as candidate of the rich and greedy in ads paid for by oligarchs who epitomise this very greed on a massive scale.
People, yes even here in Lotus Land, are not as universally stupid as the campaign consultants think. If there’s a candidate of “privilege” here, it’s Newsom. As former assembly speaker and San Francisco mayor Willie Brown suggests, Newsom is the confection created by San Francisco’s ultra-rich. The hotel magnate Pritzker clan (whose family includes the current “progressive” Illinois governor), the Fishers (who founded the Gap clothing chain) and, of course, the oil heir Gettys who also financed his business ventures, all back him.
“He came from their world, and that’s why they embraced him without hesitancy and over and above everybody else,” Brown told the Los Angeles Times. “They didn’t need to interview him. They knew what he stood for.”
In contrast, Larry‘s is very much a self-made story. His father, who he sees as a role model, grew up in the Jim Crow south, worked two jobs as a janitor and eventually opened a small coffee shop. Elder ended up with a law degree from the University of Michigan and then launched his media career. He may be an inveterate capitalist, but there are few magnates in his corner.
This poses a challenge for Newsom and other Republicans, but perhaps not an insurmountable one. Newsom outspent the entire GOP effort by 200 to 1 in July. But in an era of low cost social media, many African-Americans, Latinos and Asians, all of whom are surprisingly sympathetic to the recall, will see in Larry as someone closer to their experience. He is a man more akin to their aspirations than the union officials, tech oligarchs and Hollywood types rallying to Newsom’s defense.
But the recall and Elder still face enormous odds. Besides money and a first-class union-led get-out-the vote effort, he cannot expect much sympathy from a media that, with few exceptions, will roll over on their bellies for any Democrat. Getting largely anti-Trump Democrats and Independents will be key here since the GOP base has shrunk since the last recall in 2003 from over one-third to barely a quarter of the vote.
Inevitably Larry, if he continues to lead in the polls, will be found to have baggage. His occasionally rigid libertarian positions, for example on public education, could offer ripe targets for political consultants who see an ever-expanding welfare state as the ticket to a permanent majority. Yet even if it loses closely, the recall will be a reminder to the Democrats that even here, in the ultimate blue utopia/dystopia, a large number of Americans look forward to a future that promises something more than high-tech feudalism.
This piece first appeared at UnHerd.