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Elder energizes California GOP but steers party against the tide

4 68 20

OAKLAND — California voters’ staggering rejection of the Gov. Gavin Newsom recall was bad enough for the state's Republicans. Now the party has to navigate the meteoric rise of conservative Larry Elder, a defiant talk-show host who freely dispenses opinions far to the right of the broader electorate.

Seemingly overnight, Elder galvanized support from GOP voters in the state, building on his decadeslong experience of connecting with radio listeners to energize Republicans in a way no statewide candidate has in a generation. But his popularity is limited, constrained to one wing of a party that has withered to 24 percent of registered voters as the state has grown ever more liberal.

Newsom used Elder as his chief foil in the recall campaign, telling voters that the Republican would be a Trumpian governor, a message that resulted in a landslide win for the Democrat. Elder's future plans remain uncertain, and the dilemma of who will lead the minority party, and how, comes as California Republicans gather by the hundreds this weekend in San Diego for their twice-yearly convention to make some of those calculations.

The party could embrace Elder, yet doing so may anchor California Republicans to a conservative vision that has resulted in more than a decade of losses in the blue state. Just as former President Donald Trump drove away moderates in California and other majority-Democrat states, so too could an empowered Elder.

“The best thing the California Republican Party can do if Larry Elder shows up is to discourage him from running again," said GOP strategist Rob Stutzman, a Trump critic.

Elder's strong showing compared to other challengers is diminished by another election result: nearly half of all voters chose no replacement for Newsom, leaving the second question on the ballot blank. But should Elder assume the role of chief party “influencer," it may be hard to control him — or the party’s direction — in the next cycle.

Even Elder himself acknowledged last week that he may have reached his ceiling for voter........

© Politico

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