LOS ANGELES (AP) — Republican Larry Elder announced Tuesday he will bypass a possible rematch with California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom this year but is forming a fundraising committee that will give him a visible platform from which to build national connections and consider a future run for office.
The nationally syndicated talk radio host emerged last year as the GOP’s star candidate in the failed recall election that sought to remove Newsom from office. Since that time, there has been widespread speculation about his political future and Elder had been coy about potentially launching another campaign to oust Newsom, who is seeking a second term this year.
In a statement, Elder pointedly left open the possibility of a future state or national campaign. While skipping a rematch with Newsom, he will use his Elder for America PAC to channel funds to House and Senate candidates around the country, a familiar strategy for potential future candidates looking to build up name recognition and political connections.
With control of Congress in play, Elder is planning to travel the country to campaign for GOP candidates.
“While I may not know what the future holds for me politically, our campaign’s ability to attract millions of votes and millions of dollars in a very short time demonstrates we have a message that resonates with Americans, and I believe we can put that to good use,” Elder said.
While bypassing another run against Newsom, he said he was "determined to fight for important issues in places where we can make a real difference.”
"The radical left’s woke agenda is destroying America," he said. “At the federal level, Democrat leadership is hell bent on ruining the economy, either through massive inflation or draconian mandates for workers and employers."
His decision to avoid another showdown with Newsom was not surprising, given California's strong Democratic tilt. Republicans have not won a statewide race in the state since 2006, and Democratic voters outnumber Republicans in the state by nearly 2-to-1.
Though the election is months away, Newsom appears well positioned at this juncture to claim a second, four-year term. A dominant victory also could increase speculation about a possible White House run.
So far, the potential GOP field appears thin. Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who failed to break out of the single digits in the recall election and finished far behind Elder among potential replacement candidates, is considering a run. Businessman John Cox, who lost to Newsom in 2018 and picked up 4% of the vote among replacement candidates in the recall, said Tuesday, “I'm not ruling it out.”
An unusual set of circumstances conspired last year to leave Newsom imperiled in the recall, including public angst over long-shuttered schools and businesses during the pandemic, a massive unemployment benefits fraud scandal and fallout from the disclosure that he attended a birthday party with friends and lobbyists at an opulent restaurant while telling state residents to spurn social gatherings and stay home for safety.
In the end, Newsom comfortably beat back the recall drive. Elder easily finished first among potential replacement candidates, carrying nearly half the vote, though the tally among replacement candidates was rendered irrelevant after the recall failed.
While Elder often has teased about another run for office, he appears to be continuing to assess his options. His recall candidacy picked up nearly 3.6 million votes, and he raised over $22 million in about eight weeks, according to his statement.
His campaign pulled support from his 2 million followers on social media, remnants of the Trump coalition and evangelicals, although that together represents a modest slice of California’s 22 million voters. He has a national following among conservatives and is a frequent guest on Fox News, but would be largely unknown to the broader swath of the national electorate. His challenge would be connecting with voters beyond his base supporters, either in California or nationally.
Elder, 69, who could have become the state’s first Black governor, outshined his GOP rivals in the recall by hewing to a conservative-libertarian message that was an uneasy fit with many of the state's moderate and liberal voters.
He's a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, a reviled figure in California outside his conservative base. Elder is critical of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision on abortion and supports expanding oil extraction, positions out of step with a majority of voters in the state.
He has spoken in opposition to the minimum wage, and is critical of gun control. Elder disputes the notion of systemic racism in America and is critical of Black Lives Matter, positions that have put him in conflict with many other Black people. During the campaign, a former fiancee said Elder was emotionally abusive in their relationship.