OAKLAND — Republicans vying to become California’s next governor lowered the temperature by declining to attack frontrunner Larry Elder in a Thursday night debate after a day of explosive revelations.
Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Assemblymember Kevin Kiley and business owner John Cox eschewed chances Thursday to go after Elder, even after Elder’s former fiancee and producer Alexandra Datig detailed allegations to POLITICO that he had brandished a gun during a heated conversation with her. Elder subsequently denied that accusation on Twitter after ignoring earlier opportunities to address Datig’s comments.
Two nights earlier, Faulconer seized on Elder’s opposition to a minimum wage and his comments about women to assail the talk show host’s positions as “indefensible” and “bulls—.” It was part of an attempt by Faulconer to pivot away from conservative Republicans and pursue support from the broader electorate.
Before Thursday’s debate, which aired statewide on Nexstar television stations, it seemed that Faulconer might go after Elder again. He released a statement just beforehand saying Elder “doesn’t have the judgment and character to lead this state” and alluded to “reports on his personal behavior.” But he did not raise the allegations during the debate.
Besides the POLITICO story, CNN on Thursday detailed controversial statements by Elder in his radio career, including a 1996 ad in which Elder said “women exaggerate the problem of sexism.” The San Francisco Chronicle found that Elder wrote in his 2000 book “The Ten Things You Can’t Say in America” that “smart women simply overlook some boorish behavior by men.”
Elder soared to the lead among 46 recall replacement candidates since entering the race last month, building momentum off his name identification among conservatives and decades of media experience. That has led Newsom to frame the election as a head-to-head battle between him and Elder — whom the governor thinks is extreme enough to scare voters into rejecting the recall.
But that has only increased the pressure on other GOP candidates who are watching their window of opportunity shrink now that California has their mail ballots in hand ahead of the Sept. 14 election.
Many California Republicans have argued against attacking one another, saying the focus should be on defeating Newsom. The closest Republicans came Thursday to engaging with Elder, who leads in the polls but has refused to participate in debates, was when Cox pointed to the large share of undecided voters to rebut the notion that Elder had clearly established himself as the GOP frontrunner.
“Undecided is running away with this race,” Cox said. “Mr. Elder isn’t.”
Instead, the Republican contenders agreed on the need to discard Newsom’s statewide coronavirus mandates, reduce burdens on businesses, curtail clean energy mandates and offer parents more choice in their children’s schooling.
They largely deflected a question about former President Donald Trump, who retains broad popularity with California Republicans despite his deep toxicity among California’s heavily Democratic and independent electorate. In response to a question of whether they would vote for Trump in 2024, only Cox unequivocally said he would.
Faulconer said the question was “what Gavin Newsom wants” as the Democratic governor seeks to yoke his opponents to the former president. Kiley demurred by saying, “I stay out of national politics.”
Polls show a tight race because Republicans are more eager to vote than Democrats. Voters will be asked two questions: whether to recall Newsom, and who should succeed him. If the voters reject the recall on the first question, the replacement ballot becomes moot.