It's now Larry Elder's California GOP. What's his next move?
Although the effort to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom failed, the lightning two-month campaign appears to have had at least one clear beneficiary — Larry Elder.
The conservative talk radio host jumped to the front of the pack of 46 recall challengers soon after he entered the race on July 12, enhancing his brand as a media provocateur and potentially paving the way for a future run for office.
His showing Tuesday, when he led the challengers by a wide margin, could establish him as the putative leader of the state's Republican Party.
Some of his most ardent followers have said they hope Elder will run next year, to challenge Newsom for a second time.
Asked about a 2022 run, Elder told KMJ radio in Fresno on Tuesday: "I have now become a political force here in California in general and particularly within the Republican party. And I'm not going to leave the stage."
But his path to a victory would be even more difficult then, when he would have to receive a majority of the vote in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2 to 1.
Tuesday's results represented a stark dichotomy for Elder: The Los Angeles native, making his first run for office at 69, rocketed past more experienced candidates to become the darling of conservatives. That put him tantalizingly close to becoming first Black governor in the state's 171-year history.
But his unbending conservatism — against abortion rights, opposed to the minimum wage and prepared to reverse COVID-19 vaccine and mask requirements — likely repelled enough voters in liberal-leaning California to help drive a considerable segment of the electorate toward keeping Newsom in office.
"He is now the leader of the resistance in California, or at least one of the biggest leaders," said Carl DeMaio, a San Diego talk radio host and chair of the Reform California political action committee. "If he does want to run again, there is no doubt he is the [Republican] nominee. There is simply no doubt."
But dominion over a small conservative "resistance" — dominated by a shrinking minority of older, white voters — is not a formula to return Republicans to power in California, said GOP consultant Mike Madrid.
"You can say you remained pure in defeat, but that's just a martyr candidacy," Madrid said. "It appeals to a core group that is the fastest-shrinking demographic in the state and in the country."
Elder insisted into the final days of his campaign that he would unseat Newsom, even as polls began to show the pro-recall vote being overwhelmed by votes to keep Newsom in office. When asked last week about a possible 2022 rematch with the governor, Elder did not respond directly.
"A lot of people have invested their hopes and dreams in me," Elder said. "A lot of people feel that I can make California better."
If Elder chooses to return to his work as a talk show host, he should find his stature markedly enhanced, industry analysts said.
"He will be a huge winner in his media career because his profile has been raised exponentially since this began," said Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers, a trade publication for the radio and TV talk industry. "It's been a tremendous victory for him."
The self-proclaimed "Sage from South-Central" has been a fixture on Los Angeles radio for most of the last 30 years , first on KABC AM-790, briefly via his own streaming outlet and, since 2016, on AM-870.
Elder took a hiatus to run for governor, but he will be welcomed back by the Salem Radio Network, which delivers his program to 115 stations around the country and about 260 other cable and HD platforms.
Elder's bosses made it clear they hope to capitalize on the wave of attention he received after entering the recall race.
"For stations that have now seen this campaign and have seen how good Larry is, it's time to go back to those stations," said Phil Boyce, the senior vice president for Salem who oversees the network. "I expect that he will pick up stations in the future because of this."
Elder has long told friends that he coveted a national television presence, though he has not spoken publicly about whether he still holds those ambitions. He has been a guest on Fox News programs 220 times in the past five years, but representatives at the conservative network declined to say whether they would consider Elder for a regular paid position.
Elder came late to the recall campaign, but quickly outpaced his rivals. He jumped to the head of the polls and raised more campaign funds, particularly among small donors. By late August he had raised more than $2.3 million from those giving less than $100. That was more than three times the amount his four closest competitors combined collected.