SACRAMENTO – Larry Elder has been a fixture on AM radio for a generation for millions of Californians, the voice to count on when tired of liberal democratic politics. Undocumented immigrants? Deport them. Affirmative Action? Finish it. Same salary? The glass ceiling does not exist.
Now, Mr. Elder, a Los Angeles Republican who describes himself as “the wise man from South Central,” could become the next governor of the nation’s most populous state. As the campaign to remove Governor Gavin Newsom has turned into a heatwave among likely voters, Mr. Elder has topped the campaign almost overnight to replace him.
Driven by a combination of arcane recall rules, name recognition, and partisan despair, his rise to the top of a pack of about four dozen challengers has stunned and unnerved many on both sides.
The Democrats call him the agent of a far-right seizure of power. Republican rivals say he is an inexperienced debating opportunist. Orrin Heatlie, the sergeant of the retired sheriff who is the main proponent of the recall, said he and his peers voted for someone else.
That month, The Sacramento Bee and two Republican candidates – Kevin Faulconer, the former mayor of San Diego and Caitlyn Jenner, the television personality and former Olympian – called for Mr. Elder to be eliminated from the race after one of his ex-boyfriends said that he brandished a gun at her during a 2015 breakup while she was high on marijuana.
“We had a conversation and he went to the drawer, took out a .45 and checked whether it was loaded,” said Alexandra Datig, 51, in an interview. Ms. Datig, who worked as an escort in the 1990s and now runs Front Page Index, a conservative website, said, “He wanted me to know that he was ready to threaten me very much. He’s a talented entertainer, but he shouldn’t be a governor. “
Mr. Elder, 69, did not respond to requests for comment on Ms. Datig’s allegations, but tweeted that he “never wielded a gun at anyone” and added, “I will not acknowledge this with a response.”
The rush has come as the September 14 election deadline approaches. Ballot papers were sent to all active registered voters asking if the governor should be replaced and, if so, by whom.
Constitutional scholars say Mr. Elder’s sudden rise is an example of everything wrong in the recall process that requires a majority to remove a governor but only a large number of votes for the replacement candidate to win. With 46 challengers on the ballot, 49.9 percent of the electorate could vote to keep Mr. Newsom and he could still lose to a replacement supported by only a tiny bunch of voters. Polls show Mr. Newsom’s defeat among all Californians, but a far closer race among the likely voters, 20 percent of whom prefer Mr. Elder.
Mr. Newsom, whose fate depends on the turnout, has Mr. Elder, a “little libertarian” who reliably stirs up the governor’s base, for example with claims that the minimum wage should be zero, the “war on oil” should be are terminated and racial preferences are destructive.
The California recall election
“The lead candidate thinks climate change is a joke, believes we need more offshore oil drilling, more fracking, doesn’t believe a woman has the right to vote, actually opposed Roe v. Wade outspoken, doesn’t believe in a minimum wage, ”Mr. Newsom has told supporters.
“Don’t portray me as a wild-eyed radical,” Mr. Elder said in a recent interview. “I’m running for crime, homelessness, the rising cost of living and the outrageous decisions made during Covid that crippled the state.”
To his loyal listeners, Mr. Elder describes himself as the born son of a California that was once simpler and safer than the teeming, disaster-prone nation-state that he now anchors on the west coast. Listeners know that his father, a retired U.S. Marine, saved his janitorial wages to open a restaurant in Los Angeless Pico-Union neighborhood and buy a house in a neighborhood that’s less than a quarter of the predominantly white to predominantly black residents changed decade.
His father was also violently abused, wrote Mr Elder in 2018, driving him to leave home once he graduated from Crenshaw High School. Mr. Elder, the second of three sons, was admitted to an early affirmative action program at Brown University and stayed away from California for years, transferring to the University of Michigan Law School and becoming an attorney and legal recruiter in Ohio.
He was a guest on a Cleveland PBS show when the deputy host, Los Angeles-based Conservative talk radio host Dennis Prager suggested they come back.
“I was so impressed with his pristine mind and phenomenal understanding of the issues that I invited him to my show on my return to Los Angeles – only to convince the KABC station manager to hire him,” Mr Prager wrote in one Email.
It was the age of Rush Limbaugh, and Mr. Elder stood up quickly. Los Angeles progressives boycotted his advertisers, but he persevered, wrote books, appeared on Fox News, and expanded through syndication until 2014 when the broadcaster abruptly fired him. Another station soon picked him up; Salem Media Group has syndicated its show since 2016 and holds its slot during its campaigns.
“I never, never, never, ever, ever thought that I would get into politics,” said Mr. Elder. But he was, he said, persuaded by Mr. Prager, Jack Hibbs, the evangelical pastor of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, and many others, including radio colleagues, his hairdresser, and his cleaner.
“I’ve always waited for someone to say, ‘Are you kidding?’” He said. “But nobody said that. People said, ‘If not you, who? If not now when? ‘”
Mr. Elder’s political positions speak loudly and clearly in favor of the small but noisy line of right-wing conservatism of the state. It supports school vouchers and prioritizes jobs over environmental and climate considerations. He is against abortion. He has been vaccinated against the coronavirus because of a rare blood disease, but rejects vaccine and mask “mandates”.
And, as GOP advisors note, Mr. Elder is one of a handful of California Republicans well known to compete in a state of nearly 40 million people.
“I’ve been listening to him for years,” said Shelby Nicole Owens, 35, a Republican from the Sonora rural community who admired Mr. Elder’s consistency and “common sense” long before her ballot got in her mailbox.
“Made and done!” posted her on his Facebook page and added a kiss blowing emoji after tagging her voice.
But established Republicans like Mr Faulconer say he is more suited to provocation than to rule.
While other candidates disclosed their income tax, Mr. Elder provided partial returns and then successfully defied government requirements while maintaining his privacy.
After amendments to incomplete conflict of interest disclosures – which are now being investigated by state campaign finance regulators – they revealed that Mr Elder is being paid by The Epoch Times, a provider of political misinformation and far-right conspiracy theories.
He has refused to debate with other Republicans and has beaten the news media when challenged. He has told left-wing newsrooms that President Biden won quite a lot in 2020 and conservative radio interviewers that he didn’t.
He has withdrawn the 2008 claims that climate change was “a pot,” but in one interview he offered $ 10,000 in an interview to prove he ever said so, falsely claiming that “Nobody really knows to what extent” humans caused climate change. He wrote that Democrats get along better with female voters because, according to academic research, “women know less about political issues than men”.
In an interview this month, Mr. Elder said he has been single since a friendly divorce in the 1990s and now shares his Hollywood Hills home with a friend who is an interior designer.
When asked about Frau Datig, he said they had “been together for a few months and that was it”. Ms. Datig said they lived together for 18 months between 2013 and 2015 and talked about marriage.
Employed by Heidi Fleiss and the now deceased Beverly Hills Madam in the 1990s, Ms. Datig has since spoken out publicly against sex trafficking and has worked as an assistant to a now retired Los Angeles city council. She used her connections to make Mr. Elder a Hollywood Walk of Fame star, she said, and got Larry’s Girl tattooed on her lower back.
Credit…about Alexandra Datig
But when the relationship worsened, she said, he threatened to evict. A legal agreement shows that she went for $ 13,000 moving money, $ 7,000 for tattoo removal, and a Cadillac.
She did not report the alleged gun incident to the police, she said, also because she signed a non-disclosure agreement in 2014, but she asked friends and city officials for help. Three confirmed they’d received their emails last week.
Ms Datig, who has been a supporter of Mr Faulconer, said she went public after learning that her NDA was less restrictive than she thought.
And Mrs. Owens, the voter? At her Tuolumne County farm, she predicted that Mr. Elder’s fans would be intrepid.
“There doesn’t seem to be a politician alive today,” she said, “who hasn’t had a relationship scandal in the past.”
The wise man from South Central, she added, still had her voice.