The recall offered California Republicans their only plausible shot at statewide office in one of the bluest states in the nation. The recall is a way to dodge a head-to-head match that would send voters to their regular partisan corners.
That's what happened in 2003 when Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger won a recall against Democratic Gov. Gray Davis. Schwarzenegger's moderate politics never would have won a GOP primary but were appealing enough to voters fed up with the incumbent. Some Republicans hoped that would happen again this year, with former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a moderate, on the ballot.
But there were two problems for the GOP. First, California is very different now compared to 2003 — it's more liberal and more diverse. There are more than 3 million more registered Democrats in the state now than during the last recall, but nearly 400,000 fewer Republicans.
Second, Faulconer never caught on. Instead, Elder's bombastic style, honed during his decades on talk radio and echoing Trump, vaulted him to the top of the Republican pack. Newsom, sensing a favorable contrast, started pounding Elder on the airwaves.
Some Republicans had hoped the populist approach of Elder, who is African American, could appeal to California's diverse electorate. But that doesn't seem to have worked.
“Larry Elder was exactly what Gavin Newsom needed,” said Rob Stutzman, a veteran California GOP strategist.