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On Google and YouTube, Newsom and Elder aim for two different Californias

Side-by-side images of  Larry Elder and Gavin Newsom.
Recall election candidate Larry Elder, left, and Gov. Gavin Newsom.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez and Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

As California’s recall election continues, campaigns are pouring millions of dollars into online ads on Google and its popular video site, YouTube.

Over $3.6 million has been spent on recall advertising on the websites, according to data released by Google. A fundraising group organized to defend Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom accounts for most of that spending, having invested $3.03 million in ads urging voters to reject the recall.

Among Newsom’s opponents, the top spender is conservative radio talk show host Larry Elder. As Elder’s campaign has gathered steam, he has poured over $400,000 into Google and YouTube advertising.

Nearly two-thirds of the ads from groups backing Newsom or Elder appeared only for people using the sites in certain ZIP Codes. The group Stop the Republican Recall of Governor Newsom has run ads mainly on the coast, in densely populated Democratic strongholds, while Elder’s campaign committee has opted for inland areas where Republicans are more common.

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A Times analysis of the Google Transparency Report’s records from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31 shows the rival camps are using the company’s vast collection of user data to target areas they see as key to victory.

The result is two different campaigns aimed largely at two different Californias.

Two maps of California are shaded to show where separate ad campaigns took place.

There is some overlap, however. Areas targeted by both campaigns include Orange County’s Irvine, South Los Angeles and the eastern Bay Area. These areas leaned Democratic in the 2020 election, but Elder is hoping his background will help him gain support in them.

Maps of L.A., Orange County and the east Bay Area are shaded around Inglewood, Long Beach, Irvine, Oakland, Richmond.

In a video ad, Elder, who graduated from Crenshaw High School in 1970, speaks about his upbringing in South Los Angeles and his journey to an Ivy League university — and how he believes that pipeline no longer exists because the “quality of the schools has declined.”

He advocates for alternatives to public schools, such as charters and vouchers, which he says would “give parents an option out.”

Many of the Republican talk show host’s targeted ads also promise lower taxes, accuse Newsom of corruption, and share Elder’s desire to “bring back the California dream.”

Newsom’s defenders are running targeted ads in both English and Spanish. In one video ad that appeared in both languages, the narrator tells the sites’ users that the stakes in this election are “a matter of life and death.”

Praising the governor’s handling of the pandemic, the narrator then says Elder would eliminate mask and vaccine mandates.

Other targeted ads for Newsom urge voters to reject the “Republican recall” and highlight his record on employment, homelessness and the environment.

As election day nears, both campaigns have increased the number of ads they’re running on Google and YouTube, though more ads don’t necessarily mean a bigger audience — or more spending. Ads on the sites vary in price and reach based on the intricacies of Google’s system. Newsom supporters are buying more-expensive video ads, while Elder’s campaign has favored less expensive text and image ads.

Although Newsom’s and Elder’s ads on Google’s sites account for only a fraction of the $110 million raised by campaigns in the recall election, the targeted internet advertising shows how technology is enabling strategists to navigate the political division in California.

Learn more about the race in The Times’ recall election guide.


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