Larry Elder’s radio rhetoric could boost or bust him in California recall

Cuomo’s ‘bareknuckle style’ ultimately brought about his downfall: Howard Kurtz

Howard Kurtz, host of ‘MediaBuzz,’ reviews how the media has shifted its coverage of Andrew Cuomo following his resignation.

In some ways, at least, being a talk show host would seem pretty solid training for a career in politics.

You’re immersed in the issues, you know how to speak in sound bites, you’re adept at pushing people’s buttons. 

After all, if an action movie star can become governor of California, as Arnold Schwarzenegger did nearly two decades ago, what’s to stop someone who makes his living behind a microphone?

That’s why Larry Elder is suddenly a serious contender in the state’s recall election next month.

But endless hours on the air also means plenty of targets for opponents — which is why Gavin Newsom, the state’s embattled Democratic governor, is trying to turn Elder’s words against him. The media are joining the effort as well.

In a normal election, Newsom would clobber Elder, an African-American conservative. California is, after all, the bluest of blue states.

But the first ballot question is whether to recall Newsom, and with a Covid resurgence, his numbers have really slipped. A San Diego Union-Tribune poll the other day found the governor losing the recall question, 51% to 40%.

If that holds, the winner in the rest of the crowded field gets to go to Sacramento, which means Elder, at 23%, has a shot. Of course, YouTuber Kevin Paffrath, a Democrat, is at 27%, highlighting the weirdness of Golden State politics (he’s a 29-year-old real estate broker making such videos as “what you need to retire early.” The same goes for the candidacy of Caitlin Jenner, who may lead in coverage but is at a mere 4%.)

A recent Union-Tribune story began by saying Elder has “fueled skepticism of climate change, depicting global warming as a ‘crock’ and a ‘myth.’ He has said the medical establishment and ‘professional victims’ exaggerate the dangers of secondhand tobacco smoke. He offered no pushback when a doctor last month called in to his nationally syndicated radio show to suggest that COVID-19 vaccines were dangerous and didn’t object when the physician implied that Bill Gates might have backed the ‘experimental’ immunizations as a form of ‘population control.’”

You get the drift. And obviously, Elder’s own words are fair game for the press. In fact, the heightened scrutiny is a sign that the media are taking him seriously.

Another piece, on Cal Matters, says that “Gavin Newsom is happy to talk about Larry Elder. … The governor’s consultants and aides have been busy pumping out tweets, press releases and fundraising emails highlighting Elder’s outside-the-mainstream views on the minimum wage (Elder believes there shouldn’t be one), climate change … and race relations (‘racism in today’s America approaches insignificance’).”

Nor is Elder toning down his provocative style. He recently told the Los Angeles Times that he might declare a state of emergency to fire “bad” teachers, between 5% and 7% of public school teachers. (That could sound popular.) And he might invoke another emergency to “suspend” the California Environmental Quality Act. (That sounds like a red flag in such an ecology-minded state.)

A spokeswoman for Elder said of the scrutiny of his talk show comments that “some involve statements out of context, while others reflect prevailing notions of political bias. For instance, there is a clear inability [to] comprehend why a talk radio host might want to allow a caller to express views different from his own,” she told the San Diego paper.

There is some precedent here. Mike Pence, after losing two House races, hosted a radio talk show in the 1990s before becoming a congressman, Indiana governor and vice president.

Stranger things have happened. Andrew Cuomo is relinquishing his office in New York. Maybe Newsom will reverse his slide in California by getting voters motivated about the possibility of a Republican governor. Elder’s hot rhetoric could wind up boosting him or sinking him. But if he keeps getting traction, his words will be front and center.

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