LOS ANGELES – Conservative talk radio host Larry Elder has fortified his ascendant status among Republicans who want to replace Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in a September recall election, raising $4.5 million for his campaign in just 19 days and rapidly eclipsing prominent rivals, government records showed Friday.
Elder’s surge of donations, which he collected from his entry into the race on July 12 through July 31, moved his fundraising totals beyond other high-profile Republicans, including Kevin Faulconer, the former San Diego mayor who has been raising money for months for 2021 and 2022 campaigns.
Elder’s donations averaged $235,000 for each day he had been in the race, and he has continued to pile up thousands more in August. Meanwhile, Elder has risen to the front of polls for GOP candidates in the Sept. 14 election, which also show an increasingly close race for Newsom, despite California's heavy Democratic tilt.
Elder ended July with about $2.3 million in the bank, after covering expenses.
Even so, Newsom and his supporters have a vast cash advantage over his rivals, and as the target of the recall he can raise unlimited funds. The main committee opposing the recall has banked $46 million through the end of July, fueled by large donations from public labor unions, tech companies and the entertainment industry. After expenses, the committee had about $26 million on hand at the end of July.
By comparison, former Republican congressman Doug Ose reported raising $418,000 through the end of July through two committees that can finance runs for governor is 2021 and 2022, when Newsom, should he survive the recall, would be up for re-election. Faulconer has raised over $4 million through a trio of committees linked to the recall for runs for governor in 2021 and 2022.
State Assemblyman Kevin Kiley’s recall committee reported raising $834,000 in total contributions through July 31, but that included a $262,000 transfer from a separate committee that had been banking money for his 2022 Assembly race.
Reality TV personality Caitlyn Jenner reported raising nearly $750,000 through the end of July, ending up with about $22,000 on hand after expenses. However, the campaign was carrying over $150,000 in debt.
Elder’s swift rise to prominence has drawn the attention of Newsom, who told campaign volunteers Thursday that Elder was out of step with California families and mainstream values.
On Friday, in remarks that appeared aimed at the nationally syndicated radio host, Newsom told reporters in San Bernardino County that Elder “believes the minimum wage should be zero ... believes women do not have the right to choose and wants to overturn Roe v. Wade ... believes we need more offshore oil drilling and fracking” in the state.
Elder campaign spokeswoman Ying Ma said in a statement that “Newsom is running scared. He cannot defend his horrendous record on crime, homelessness, the rising cost of living, water shortages, uncontrollable wildfires and tyrannical COVID lockdowns.”
Meanwhile, two powerful California Republicans urged members of the state GOP Friday to withhold an endorsement in the upcoming election. The California Republican Party has been squabbling over whether to anoint a single candidate with its stamp of approval from the large field of contenders.
In an email obtained by The Associated Press dated Friday, Republican National Committee members Harmeet Dhillon and Shawn Steel urged party delegates not to endorse a candidate in a scheduled meeting Saturday.
With a large field of GOP rivals, they said in the email that the party shouldn’t risk discouraging voters whose favorite candidates might get snubbed.
“The polls are showing that the recall is in a statistical tie and we cannot afford to discourage voters who are passionate about a particular candidate, yet may not vote because their favored candidate didn’t receive the endorsement,” they wrote.
The email added: “Any of our GOP candidates would be superior to Gavin Newsom. We believe that the voters should decide his replacement, which will not only ensure a higher turnout of recall proponents but give Newsom’s successor the best chance of reelection in 2022.”
Dhillon and Steel’s declaration represents a turnabout because they earlier supported a party bylaw change that set the stage for a possible endorsement. They wrote in the email that the bylaw shift was proposed months before anyone knew how many Republicans would qualify for the ballot.
About 1,400 delegates were gearing up for a potentially contentious virtual meeting Saturday on the endorsement. Four candidates have qualified for consideration: Elder, Faulconer, state Assemblyman Kevin Kiley and former congressman Doug Ose.
There will be 46 replacement candidates on the Sept. 14 ballot, including 24 Republicans.
Earlier, the conservative Cox accused party insiders of trying to steer the endorsement to Faulconer, a centrist. Cox, in protest of what he viewed as a rigged process, said he wouldn't seek the endorsement.
Cox applauded Dhillon and Steel for the reversal, saying the endorsement threatened to divide Republicans while driving away independents and other potential recall supporters “when we need everybody.”
“A Republican endorsement would just send the message that somehow we agree with Newsom that this is some kind of partisan effort. It is not,” Cox said in an interview.
In the recall election, voters will be asked two questions: First, should Newsom be removed, yes or no? The second question will be a list of replacement candidates from which to choose. If a majority votes for Newsom’s removal, the candidate who gets the most votes on the second question becomes governor.
Associated Press Writer Jocelyn Gecker contributed.