Fresno, California

In the heart of California’s Bible belt, over a thousand people filled the Paul Shaghoian Concert Hall Sunday afternoon for Larry Elder, the radio host and candidate for governor.

Ongoing scandals and calls to withdraw did not dampen Elder’s first campaign launch in the Central Valley. He vowed to repeal vaccines and mask mandates if elected governor, prompting a standing ovation from the audience. ‘Larry for king!’, yelled one supporter.

‘I don’t drink coffee, I drink tea,’ Elder said. ‘When I become governor, assuming there are still mandates for vaccines and mandates for face masks, they will be repealed before my first cup of tea.’

Elder also touched on homelessness, systemic racism, policing, crime, a stagnant economy and the Golden State’s ongoing housing inflation. He pledged to declare a statewide emergency on housing to reverse standing laws.

The event drew a who’s who of local religious, business and political leaders. Recent controversy did not deter the crowd. For the past week, Gov. Gavin Newsom has singled out Elder by name, labeling him the frontrunner for the GOP. A column in the Los Angeles Times by Erika D. Smith described Elder as the ‘Black face of white supremacy’.

‘You know they’re scared when they call you the “Black face of white supremacy,”’ Elder declared at the opening of his speech.

The right-wing firebrand joined the recall only a month ago. Elder was a johnny-come-lately, entering the race days before the deadline and eventually had to take the California secretary of state to court in order to get his name on the September 14 ballot. Within weeks Elder became the leading Republican, pushing aside the establishment favorite, former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer. Earlier in the race, all Republicans running in the recall had refused to criticize one another, focusing attacks exclusively on Newsom. Before Elder declared his candidacy, Faulconer told The Spectator he would support any Republican over Newsom. Not anymore.

Scandal after scandal rocked Elder’s campaign last week. The first controversy stemmed from a column Elder wrote for Capitalism magazine two decades ago where he said, ‘Women know less than men about political issues, economics and current events. Good news for Democrats, bad news for Republicans. For the less one knows, the easier the manipulation.’ During a gubernatorial debate, Faulconer said Elder’s comments were ‘bullshit’ and criticized his ‘indefensible’ opposition to a minimum wage.

On Thursday in Fresno, Faulconer launched his ‘Comeback California’ tour in a work yard near an unfinished section of the California High-Speed Rail. The focus, however, was all on Elder. The former mayor alleged Elder believes in workplace discrimination against pregnant women, referring to Elder’s 2002 book. Faulconer would not say whether he believes Elder is sexist but told The Spectator that the radio host’s comments ‘are offensive to working women’.

kevin faulconer

Kevin Faulconer (Phillip Nieto / The Spectator)

Gary ‘Junior’ Long, a 20-year veteran of KBK Dust Control Service and a Trump supporter who watched Faulconer’s speech from his workshop, was not impressed. ‘Everybody’s too busy fighting among themselves; there are other things that should be concerning them [Republicans],’ Long told The Spectator.

Hours later, Elder’s ex- fiancée Alexandra Datig came forward with explosive allegations to Politico. Datig claimed she broke off her engagement with Elder in 2015 after he waved a gun in her face while stoned on marijuana. Elder denied the allegations. Datig is a conservative commentator and blogger who actively promotes Faulconer’s campaign. On Friday, however, Faulconer and fellow recall candidate Caitlyn Jenner called on the radio host to suspend his campaign immediately.

‘Elder’s backwards positions harm women’s rights and the livelihoods of California families,’ Faulconer said in a statement. ‘Elder’s lack of judgement and character flaws threaten the success and credibility of this historic recall movement — Californians will not vote to recall one dysfunctional governor if it means replacing him with another.’

‘[Elder’s] writings and statements are attacks on working women and every family in California. Yesterday, he doubled down on these views, and now we’re hearing reports on his personal behavior. We cannot have him as our governor.’

Through his spokesperson, Ying Ma, Elder refused to respond, adding he would not ‘participate in a circular firing squad among the replacement candidates’. But in an interview with The Spectator after his Sunday rally, Elder broke his silence.

‘Well, if I were sitting at single digits in the polls, I would attack me too,’ Elder told The Spectator. In July, polling from Berkeley IGS/LA Times indicated Faulconer had 10 percent support from likely voters while Jenner stood at 3 percent.

‘They’re not the issue. The issue is Gavin Newsom. Unless 50 percent plus one vote to recall Newsom, it doesn’t really matter what the other Republicans say or do.’

California voters will be asked two questions on their ballot: should Newsom be recalled? And if so, who should replace him? The second question will include a list of 46 additional candidates, including Elder.

‘I have been given a great deal of support from Republicans, Independents and Democrats in California, and I’m happy about that,’ Elder said.

Speaking to some of Elder’s rally attendees voting in the recall, many either did not believe Datig’s gun-waving allegations or did not think his past comments were relevant to the election. Others, meanwhile, had never even heard the details.

‘That thing is 25 years ago. I’m a strong Christian, you have to think about forgiveness,’ Tim, a 65-year-old Central California voter, told The Spectator. He was also disappointed in the other recall candidates, primarily Faulconer, for making these issues the center of his campaign in recent days.

When asked if he had any evidence to disprove Datig’s allegations, Elder reiterated his initial denial and declined to comment further.