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Radio talk show host Larry Elder poses for a photo in his studio, Monday, July 12, 2021, in Burbank, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Conservative radio host Larry Elder is the latest Republican trying to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom and get elected to replace him. And why not?

It'll only be a two-month campaign for Elder since he entered the arena late, just before the candidate filing deadline. Unlike some other major candidates, he won't need to spend nearly a year on the campaign trail.

More important, there is a narrow, uphill path to victory for Elder. Don't scoff.

Newsom is the overwhelming favorite to retain his job based on polls and logic. Democratic voters outnumber Republicans in California by nearly 2 to 1. And no Republican has been elected to statewide office since 2006.

But there's a conceivable scenario that works for Elder, 69, a Los Angeles native who has been a talk radio host since 1993. He would be California's first Black governor.

There will be two questions on the Sept. 14 ballot: Should Newsom be recalled? Who should replace him?

For Newsom to be recalled, many Democrats would need to be so apathetic that they don't bother to cast ballots. It won't help the governor that his campaign team screwed up and didn't get him identified on the ballot as a Democrat.

And Republicans — especially the most conservative — would need to be so excited about dumping Newsom that they turn out heavily.

Polls indicate that's very possible — Democrats generally don't give a hoot, and Republicans are energized.

Next, the expected large Republican field of several dozen would splinter the vote. Elder, with wide name ID and outspoken conservatism, would attract a plurality of Republican votes. He could win with a relatively small percentage of the total cast.

Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, 54, is the most qualified Republican candidate based on experience. He was twice elected to lead the state's second-largest city and before that served eight years on the City Council in an increasingly Democratic community.

Faulconer's main rival in the polls has been businessman John Cox, a perennial candidate best known for being trampled by Newsom in the 2018 gubernatorial election.

Former Olympian and reality TV personality Caitlyn Jenner is the best-known Republican candidate. But she seems lost in the political world with little clue about the issues that confront a governor.

Elder is well-known among conservatives because his nationally syndicated, three-hour talk show is broadcast daily in L.A., San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento and several smaller California cities. (His column was frequently run on this page before he became a candidate.) He's heard in all 50 states in 200 markets, with a national audience of 1.5 million, and has 2.5 million followers on social media.

"These are potential donors," says Lou Barnett, his campaign manager.

There are millions of American conservatives who believe California's liberal leadership is nuts and fear its ideology is spreading nationally.

Elder will need whatever bucks he can muster. Newsom will have all the campaign dollars he wants.

Organized labor is worried about Democratic apathy.

"The problem is, people are just not tuned in at all," says Steve Smith, communications strategist for the California Labor Federation. He means Democrats. And he bases his opinion on recent focus groups of undecided union members conducted by the federation.

But Democratic consultant Garry South, strategist for former Gov. Gray Davis, who was recalled in 2003, dismisses talk of apathy.

"It's overblown," South says.

Elder has never run for office. But he has been studying and talking about public policy for 28 years. I asked him why he had never before sought office before.

"I always thought politics was an ugly, sordid business I didn't want anything to do with," he answered.

So, why run now? He didn't like the governor's handling of the pandemic — especially the school closings — and voiced a bunch of other typical anti-Newsom criticisms.

Elder is way too conservative for most Californians. But most Californians probably won't vote. And most conservatives probably will.

Newsom is a heavy favorite — but not a cinch.

The Los Angeles Times

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