Inside Larry Elder’s base — longtime fans, new converts, evangelicals, Trump fans
Marc Ang remembers the moment in July when a friend texted to tell him that Larry Elder had just read Ang’s words live on his program.
A longtime fan of “The Larry Elder Show,” Ang, 39, a community organizer and financial advisor who leans conservative, had recently published a piece encouraging the eponymous host to join the race of candidates hoping to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom in the Sept. 14 recall election.
“Who better than the Sage of South Central?” Elder read aloud from Ang’s article on his talk radio show.
Ang was elated. Three days later, Elder officially announced.
In the weeks that followed, as Elder’s standing in the polls climbed, the local and national media began to amp up their coverage of him, publishing pieces about dismissive comments he’d made about women, examining whether he’d failed to properly disclose his finances and airing a damning allegation from his ex-fiancee.
But even as a rush of Democratic politicians tweeted the headlines along with if-you-don’t-vote-Elder-could-win warnings, the heightened scrutiny appeared to Ang and other longtime listeners — Elderados, as they call themselves — as a promising sign for their candidate and a flashing panic light among Democrats.
“It really goes to show front-runner status,” said Ang, who helps moderate a pro-Elder Facebook group.
Elder’s fan base draws from a coalition of Californians that includes some with no party preference as well as pockets of support among evangelicals, voters older than 65, people who voted for former President Trump and residents of rural areas.
His support is highest among white and Hispanic Californians, according to a CBS News poll, but Elder also outpaced all other named candidates among Asians who were polled. Of the Black Californians polled, 14% said they’d vote for Elder, second only to Democrat Kevin Paffrath with 17%. (A vast majority of those surveyed indicated either that they didn’t plan to vote for anyone or weren’t yet sure who they’d pick.)
Elder’s backers — a grass-roots support system devoid of any official blessing from the establishment — include people who are drawn to his personal backstory and those who love his radio show, as well as some who are hyper-focused on eliminating COVID-19 restrictions, those who yearn for a California of yesteryear and an anyone-but-Newsom cohort.
On the Facebook page that Ang helps moderate, supporters have grown increasingly energized in recent weeks, buoyed by the turnout at rallies across the state and by fellow fans who are working at phone banks, canvasing neighborhoods and posting yard signs.
“Elder is soaring,” one supporter posted.
“The energy feels a lot like 2016,” another wrote.
Ang’s introduction to Elder followed his own political evolution in the mid-2000s, when he mainly watched MSNBC and CNN and got a lot of his politics news from “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart and filmmaker Michael Moore.
He thought of himself as “pretty much on the left” back then, he said, but grew disillusioned when President George W. Bush’s plan for reforming the nation’s immigration policy, the most ambitious attempt at an overhaul in years, ultimately died in the Democrat-controlled Senate. As the son of Filipino immigrants, the issue was deeply personal for him, and he’d been thrilled at the prospect that it might pass.
“I started kind of saying, ‘Oh, it’s not as clear-cut as it seems,’” Ang said. Many issues, he realized, were deeper and more nuanced than how each partisan side tried to sum them up.
“That’s when Larry came into my orbit,” said Ang, who was registered with no party preference for years, switched to the Republican Party in 2020 to support Trump and recently switched back to no preference.
Ang, who splits his time between San Bernardino and Orange counties, began listening to Elder’s show while driving home from work some days. He said he appreciated Elder’s consistency and smooth delivery, which felt lighter on theatrics than some of his counterparts.
“Clean points being conveyed without the bombastics and craziness,” Ang said. “Larry hit the sweet spot.”
Elder’s brand of libertarianism resonated with Ang, who believes the government in California is too involved in too many issues.
“California has gotten ridiculous,” said Ang, who bought a home in San Bernardino County through a tax sale last summer but ran into several bureaucratic delays that kept him from moving in for about a year. “I believe Larry can get down to the basics of when government should get involved and when not.”
Elder is also winning over more recent converts — supporters who view voting for him as a referendum on the state of the state that they love but are increasingly loving less and less.
People like Tina Van Curen, who owns Autobooks-Aerobooks in Burbank.
For years, the specialty shop that sells books about cars and planes held book signings and relied on an influx of customers around the time of the annual Grand Prix of Long Beach and other big events, as well as foot traffic from nearby shops. Then in March 2020, in the days after Newsom issued a statewide stay-at-home order, Van Curen had to lay off the shop’s one other employee.
The shop managed to stay in business, scraping by for a while on online sales from loyal customers, Van Curen said. But even when Autobooks-Aerobooks was allowed to reopen with limited capacity, a lot of customers were confused by the restrictions and assumed her shop was still closed. Now, she said, it’s bringing in only about 50% to 60% of what it did before.
“The whole economy here has been totally decimated by Newsom and his rules,” she said, explaining that she thinks the governor made far too many unilateral decisions.
“‘Mandate this, mandate that,’” she said, sighing. “We have a Legislature for that.”
Van Curen, a longtime conservative, kept a “Recall Newsom” petition in her shop and around 400 people signed it, she said, adding that she was stunned by the variety of signatories, including several people who told her they were Democrats.
“Not all a bunch of Trump people,” she said. “Delivery guys would come in and say, ‘Oh, I want to sign this.’ These are just citizens who are concerned about what’s happening in our state and the decline of livability in our state.”
Van Curen and her husband are native Californians — her husband’s relatives arrived in the state during the Gold Rush, she said — but these days they sometimes talk about moving.
“We can’t retire here,” she said, “it’s too damn expensive.”
Crime is another issue she cares about deeply. A few weeks ago, someone broke the glass in front of her shop, as well as several others along the street, Van Curen said. She spoke to Burbank police, who told her they’d caught the suspect and that he was in jail.
“Oh, will he be out tomorrow?” she asked in frustration — not with the police, she explained, but with what she views as overly lenient laws.
Several weeks ago, Van Curen’s friend sent her a video via Facebook of Elder speaking at an event. She didn’t know much about him before but was immediately impressed.
She liked that he was an L.A. native and that he was a Black American, because she said she thought that would make it harder for Democrats to throw out some common talking points used in recent elections. She thinks he has the experience to make a good governor — and she thinks he can win.
“No. 1, I think he’s electable,” she said, adding that she plans to cast her vote for him in person.
Many of Elder’s supporters dismiss the common critiques lodged against him — that he gives cover to bigots and has fueled skepticism about climate change and vaccines — as void-of-context soundbites manipulated by the media, a common Elder target, and liberals, who they say are falling back on a tired reliance on identity politics.
Beyond the Elderados like Ang and newer supporters like Van Curen, there’s a third voting bloc Elder has spent recent weeks courting: evangelicals.
He’s traveled to churches up and down the coast in recent weeks and on one Sunday in August, he spent the day at Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, where his friend, Jack Hibbs, is the pastor.
Before Elder addressed the church from a stage, which was lined with U.S. and California flags, Hibbs walked to the lectern. The pastor urged members of his congregation to bring their completed ballots to the church, where he said they’d be kept in a locked compartment and later delivered to the registrar’s office.
“Do not trust the Postal Service,” said Hibbs.
His sermon focused, in part, on Proverbs 29:02: “When the wicked rule, the people groan,” the second half of the verse reads.
“I would submit to you, and it’s no hard sell,” Hibbs said, “that California has been groaning for a long time.”
“Amen!” the crowd said.
Hibbs told his audience that days earlier while driving around Los Angeles, he’d seen a church marquee bearing the words “Black Lives Matter.”
Several people in the crowd responded with an audible sigh.
“But then it dawned on me,” Hibbs said. “BLM, it doesn’t stand for Black Lives Matter. It stands for Because Larry Matters!”
The crowd erupted in cheers as Elder walked onto the stage. The two men embraced tightly, and Elder blew a kiss to the congregation.
“Larry! Larry! Larry!” they cheered.
Elder spoke for half an hour, sharing memories of growing up in South-Central and how, after years of estrangement, he forgave his father. At the end of the service, he gave a quick pitch.
“You should vote for me cause I’m a native Californian. I’ve been talking about the issues of crime and the outrageous cost of living. I’ve been talking about the issues of homelessness for a long, long time,” said Elder, who according to disclosure documents received some income from the Chino Hills church.
Hibbs asked the crowd to stand for prayer, resting his palms on Elder’s back. Hibbs prayed that, after election day, once the race was over, a “shockwave would go across this nation.”
Elder, standing with his hands raised in the air and eyes closed, smiled.
At a recall-Newsom rally on a recent drizzly Saturday morning, more than 100 people gathered in the parking lot of a shopping plaza in Rowland Heights.
A woman flew a large “Lord of Lords” flag and another carried a sign urging people to recall Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón.
Several emcees took turns at the microphone, ticking through a list of what they considered some of California’s most dire issues — the shutdown of churches during the pandemic, the lingering possibility of vaccine mandates, water shortages and rolling blackouts, sex education that they consider overly graphic, high taxes and what they characterize as rampant crime.
At one point, Ang, dressed in a black T-shirt with Elder’s name on it, walked to the microphone. He asked the crowd to think about all the businesses that had closed in the last year and a half in Rowland Heights alone. If they were fed up, he shouted, now was the time to raise their voices.
“This energy is important!” he shouted. “Call your friends!”
A woman in the audience closed her eyes and lifted her palms toward the gray sky in prayer.
“Goodbye, Newscum,” she whispered.
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