LOS ANGELES – A day after facing allegations that he emotionally mistreated a former fiancee, Republican Larry Elder scheduled two weekend rallies and showed no outward signs of altering the course of his campaign in the California recall election that could remove Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom from office.
The longtime talk radio host who could be the state's first Black governor is scheduled to gather with supporters in Newport Beach on Saturday and Clovis, in the Central Valley, on Sunday. Both are places receptive to his conservative message; Newport Beach is a longtime Republican stronghold, and Clovis is in the district of Republican U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes.
Elder tweeted Thursday that he was “more energized than ever to fix this state” and described claims of improper behavior in his former relationship with Alexandra Datig as “salacious allegations.”
Datig’s allegations surfaced at a time when there seem to be few hard rules about personal conduct and consequence for politicians and public officials. How Elder maneuvers through the wave of unwelcome headlines will test his front-runner status.
It wasn’t immediately clear what impact the Datig's assertions might have on the contest. On Thursday night, hours after the story broke, three of Elder's Republican rivals debated and the issue never came up. Newsom hasn’t mentioned it, though his campaign has called Datig’s statements “serious allegations.”
Later Friday, Republican candidate Kevin Faulconer — who was silent on the issue in Thursday's televised debate — said in a statement that Elder should withdraw from the race, calling him “unfit to serve.” In an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Elder gave no indication he was considering leaving the contest and said Democrats were panicked that “California can elect a conservative governor."
Voters ultimately will pass judgment on Elder in the Sept. 14 election. Mail-in balloting already has begun.
“I think strong conservatives are most likely to dismiss these sorts of charges as false, and as driven by opponents of Elder who want to take him down. This is a highly partisan issue,” Menlo College political scientist Melissa Michelson said.
Overall, “these allegations are unlikely to have much of an impact. Despite the victories of the #MeToo movement, voters do not seem inclined to punish politicians based on these sorts of claims,” she added in an email.
In recent decades, California voters have turned a mostly indifferent eye to sexual indiscretions by politicians, including Newsom, who while mayor of San Francisco had an affair with his then-appointments secretary, who at the time was married to his campaign manager. The issue came up only fleetingly in his 2018 run for governor.
Just days before Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor in a 2003 recall election, the Los Angeles Times reported six women, some of whom worked with him on movie sets, said he groped them. Initially, his campaign denied he engaged in improper conduct but shortly afterward Schwarzenegger apologized while disputing some of the allegations.
Kim Nalder, a professor of political science at California State University, Sacramento, said the allegations against Elder have the potential to change some voters’ minds, especially those who are just tuning in and didn’t know much about Elder. But it’s unlikely to sway many voters who already have settled on Elder.
“The type of folks who likely back him are Trump voters, they aren’t dissuaded by accusations of sexual impropriety or mistreatment of women,” she said.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, a 2005 recording of Donald Trump surfaced in which he bragged about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with various women. The taped conversation surfaced roughly a month before the election in which he defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Trump also had a long history of making lewd comments toward and about women.
Sean Walsh, a lawyer and Republican who was Schwarzenegger’s press secretary during the 2003 recall, said he doubted Elder would suffer much fallout. He said if voters are motivated enough to fire Newsom “they are more than willing to be forgiving of certain indiscretions” in candidates who want to replace him.
Walsh said the public can be especially lenient of celebrities such as Schwarzenegger, and Elder can claim a measure of Hollywood sparkle from his many years on talk radio and appearances on Fox News.
“Whatever that Teflon thing is that comes with celebrity, he’s got some of it,” Walsh said.
California voters are being asked whether Newsom should leave office and who should replace him. If a majority vote for the recall, then the replacement will be whoever gets the most votes among 46 candidates. A winner could emerge with 25% support or less. Schwarzenegger won with 48.6% of the vote in 2003.
Datig, in documents and an interview with The Associated Press, sketched a portrait of a strained 18-month romantic relationship in which Elder was overly controlling and routinely used medicinal marijuana to excess. She claims Elder showed her a gun during a heated 2015 argument; Elder denies he ever brandished a gun at anyone. She said she never reported the incident to police and moved out after they agreed on a financial settlement.
Elder did not specifically address the claim about marijuana use in questions submitted to his campaign by AP.
Datig, 51 and a longtime Los Angeles resident who has been active on political causes, supports one of Elder’s Republican rivals, Faulconer, a former San Diego mayor. She endorsed Faulconer on her blog on Aug. 5, then emailed his campaign’s press account to let them know about her backing and to express “great concern over Larry Elder’s character and treatment of her,” Faulconer campaign spokesman John Burke said Friday.
Faulconer said Friday he has never spoken to Datig and called her allegations disturbing and said they need to be investigated. Asked if Datig’s outreach factored in Faulconer’s decision to criticize Elder’s record on women, which he began doing Tuesday, the former mayor didn't answer directly and reverted to his criticism about Elder’s statements about women in the workplace.
Rob Stutzman, who was communications director for Schwarzenegger during the 2003 recall, said he doesn’t see the allegations against Elder as similar to Schwarzenegger. These involve a domestic dispute and a gun allegedly was involved.
Stutzman said some voters were skeptical of the Schwarzenegger allegations because they came so close to Election Day.
“I think people thought it was late, people thought a lot of the stories were uncorroborated, there’s vendettas in Hollywood,” he said.
Ronayne reported from Sacramento.