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Where could Larry Elder’s emergence as a Republican star lead: Politics, TV, radio

Larry Elder stands holding a microphone on a stage
Larry Elder rallies supporters at the Orange County Hilton in Costa Mesa on Tuesday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Larry Elder, the conservative talk show host who emerged as the California GOP’s new star in the unsuccessful bid to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom, conceded defeat but also made clear he will have more to say about his political future.

Elder closed out his concession speech Tuesday night by addressing the 2022 gubernatorial race. “As a former radio host, let me just say this: Stay tuned,” Elder said.

So where does he go from here?

Elder’s message to backers

Elder urged his supporters to be “gracious in defeat,” with the candidate acknowledging the election results a few minutes into his speech Tuesday night.

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In the weeks leading up to the recall, some far-right figures had been sowing doubt about the integrity of the vote, and Elder’s own campaign set up a “Stop CA Fraud” website where supporters could report suspicious election activity and sign a petition demanding an investigation into “the twisted results” of the election. But the website was live on Monday — a day before the election had ended or any results had been tabulated. Prior to election night, Elder had also not definitively said whether he would accept the results if he lost.

The election provided California voters an opportunity to judge Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ability to lead the state through the COVID-19 pandemic, a worldwide health crisis that has shattered families and livelihoods.

But Elder did not sow any doubt on the results as he conceded Tuesday night, nor did he question the integrity of the election.

“We may have lost the battle, but we are going to win the war,” Elder told the crowd at his Costa Mesa election night party as he took the stage a little more than two hours after polls closed.

With his girlfriend, Nina Perry, by his side, Elder thanked his campaign staff and supporters, and greeted state politicians in the raucous crowd — including former Monterey Park Mayor Betty Chu and former Democratic lawmaker Gloria Romero.

At times, Elder’s 36-minute concession address closely resembled his stump speeches, with a focus on crime, homelessness, housing and education, and the candidate repeated many of the same lines about various issues that he has used on the campaign trail.

“We are forcing them now to pay attention to the problem of homelessness,” Elder continued. “We are forcing them to do a better job on schools. We are forcing them now to do a better job on clearing our forests. We are forcing them to do a better job about energy. We are forcing them now to pay attention to the things they should have paid attention to two years ago.”

Attacking Obama, telling his story

Elder criticized former President Obama, who appeared in campaign ads urging Californians to reject the recall, at length. Elder said Obama had further divided the country on race. Elder, who is Black, cast himself as a foil to Obama, the first Black president, in this respect, reiterating his controversial position that systemic racism is not a problem in American life and criticizing the “bogus” Black Lives Matter movement.

He also spent several minutes speaking about his parents and his origin story.

“My father always told my brothers and me hard work wins,” Elder said. “You get out of life what you put into it. You do not control the outcome, Larry, but you are 100% in control of the effort.”

The campaign is over. And what Gov. Gavin Newsom takes from what happened — what he does or doesn’t learn from it — will affect millions of Californians.

“When you consider we were outspent by a factor of five, six, seven to one. I wasn’t running just against Gavin Newsom, I was running against the left-wing media ... and we still scared the bejesus out of them,” Elder told his supporters, citing the high-profile national Democratic surrogates who had campaigned against him in recent weeks.

“I have been a politician for all of seven or eight weeks — how am I doing?” Elder asked the room toward the end of his speech, his supporters exploding in applause. “They are now listening in ways they never listened before. They’re now hearing us in ways they never heard us before.”

Where Elder could go next

At his election night watch party, many supporters said they hoped Elder will run again in 2022. The Times’ James Rainey talked to experts and others about Elder’s future. Some key observations:

Politics

“He is now the leader of the resistance in California, or at least one of the biggest leaders,” said Carl DeMaio, a San Diego talk radio host and chair of the Reform California political action committee. “If he does want to run again, there is no doubt he is the [Republican] nominee. There is simply no doubt.”

But dominion over a small conservative “resistance” — dominated by a shrinking minority of older, white voters — is not a formula to return Republicans to power in California, said GOP consultant Mike Madrid. “You can say you remained pure in defeat, but that’s just a martyr candidacy,” Madrid said. “It appeals to a core group that is the fastest-shrinking demographic in the state and in the country.”

Larry Elder shook up the recall campaign. What will the conservative talk radio host do next?

Radio

If Elder chooses to return to his work as a talk show host, he should find his stature markedly enhanced, industry analysts said.

“He will be a huge winner in his media career because his profile has been raised exponentially since this began,” said Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers, a trade publication for the radio and TV talk industry. “It’s been a tremendous victory for him.”

Television

Elder has long told friends that he coveted a national TV presence, though he has not spoken publicly about whether he still holds those ambitions. He has been a guest on Fox News programs 220 times in the past five years, but representatives at the conservative-leaning network declined to say whether they would consider Elder for a regular paid position.


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