SACRAMENTO — Republicans vying to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom in the recall election will have to overcome an enormous fundraising gulf, but latecomer Larry Elder has quickly vaulted ahead of his GOP rivals, new campaign filings show.
Elder, a longtime conservative talk show host, reported collecting nearly $4.5 million in July after declaring his candidacy last month. In mere weeks, his total eclipsed what fellow Republicans had raised in months, and daily filings show Elder has pulled in another $440,000 in the first few days of August.
The highest-raising Republican contenders registered hauls in the low millions, while Newsom has raised at least $45 million since the start of 2021. All told, Republicans have cumulatively raised a fraction of Newsom’s stash, which has allowed the governor to dominate the airwaves this summer and puts him in position to continue running ads statewide in the roughly five weeks left before the Sept. 14 election.
But Elder’s fundraising surge serves as further confirmation that he is now the top Republican among replacement candidates. Recent polls have indicated the same, including a Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies/Los Angeles Times survey last week that showed him with 18 percent support among likely voters.
Elder has secured endorsements from Republican clubs and conservative celebrities such as Chuck Norris, while he has significant name recognition — especially in Southern California — after years of appearing on TV, radio and in print as a columnist.
The new campaign finance records show he had around $2.3 million banked for the home stretch as of July 31. Elder launched TV ads in Southern California this week accusing Newsom of acting “like a tyrant” during the pandemic.
Elder provided a copy of his statement showing topline numbers, but his campaign said his forms aren’t on the California secretary of state’s website because the system was clogged at Thursday night’s deadline. Likewise, Newsom’s forms weren’t showing up accurately as of Friday morning.
After Elder, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer led the GOP pack, raising roughly $3.4 million between a pair of campaign accounts and maintaining about $1.2 million in cash on hand. Much of that money flowed from longtime California Republican donors in a reflection of Faulconer’s appeal to the state’s GOP establishment.
Other Republicans had fundraising totals in the hundreds of thousands through the end of July.
Republican Assemblymember Kevin Kiley collected about $834,000 and had about $572,000 on hand. Businessman John Cox has largely self-funded his campaign, pouring in millions of dollars that funded an introductory ad blitz featuring a trained bear, and reported having around $700,000 between two accounts through the end of July.
Former GOP Rep. Doug Ose had about $60,000 on hand. Board of Equalization member Ted Gaines raised about $266,000 and had some $149,000 remaining. Celebrity and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner reported just $25,000 on hand through the end of July and more than $150,000 in debt.
Newsom enjoys a singular edge over his GOP rivals: campaign finance rules allow the incumbent governor to raise unlimited sums of money because state law treats the question of whether to oust Newsom as a ballot issue rather than a candidate race. That has allowed Newsom to lap the Republican field, drawing on a panoply of deep-pocketed backers across the worlds of organized labor, Hollywood, tech, agriculture, Native American casinos, and real estate.
Donors to Republican candidates can give no more than $32,400, the limit for a gubernatorial election cycle. However, Republicans can open separate accounts to collect unlimited sums if they use that money to campaign for recalling Newsom rather than their own candidacy. Some candidates have opened such accounts but not generated anywhere near the money that Newsom has.
Statewide campaigns are hugely expensive in California given the state’s size and the fact that it encompasses several media markets. Newsom has been able to run advertisements across the state. His campaign has concentrated the bulk of its advertising buys so far in Los Angeles, a populous gold mine of Democratic votes.
Republicans, by contrast, have had to be more strategic with their money, buying time in specific markets or targeting conservative-heavy formats like talk radio and country music stations. Elder has focused his spending on Los Angeles and San Diego, where he has been on the airwaves longest.
Republican voters are more engaged in the recall than their Democratic counterparts, suggesting Newsom’s foes could ride surging enthusiasm to an upset victory. Newsom and allies will focus heavily on turning out their base in the weeks ahead through a combination of advertising, targeted communications and home visits.
Voters will answer two questions: whether or not to recall Newsom, and who should replace him. If a majority of voters elect to keep Newsom on the first question, the outcome of the second becomes moot.
Should Newsom survive, he would head into a 2022 re-election cycle with a solid financial foundation. His gubernatorial re-election committee — which is separate from his recall account — had $23 million in the bank at the end of June and has since pulled in at least $319,000 more.