By CalMatters

Conservative radio talk show host Larry Elder, speaks to his supporters during a rally in Norwalk, on July 13, 2021. Elder announced his bid as a recall candidate for governor of California. Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

(CALMATTERS) – Conservative radio talk show host Larry Elder, speaks to his supporters during a rally to announce his candidacy for the recall election, in Norwalk, on July 13, 2021. Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

Gov. Gavin Newsom is happy to talk about Larry Elder.

Hammering the conservative radio host turned top replacement candidate in the upcoming recall race seems to be the latest strategy from Team Newsom. For the last few weeks, the governor’s consultants and aides have been busy pumping out tweets, press releases and fundraising emails highlighting Elder’s outside-the-mainstream views on the minimum wage (Elder believes there shouldn’t be one), climate change (a “crock,” he’s said) and race relations (“racism in today’s America approaches insignificance”).

Newsom’s focus on Elder has taken some pressure off the other GOP candidates, who have so far been reluctant to go after a front-runner so popular with the party base.

Elder leads the pack of replacement candidates in the polls and has already outraised most of the competition despite entering the race at the last minute. That alone could give Newsom reason to fixate on Elder.

But there’s another reason — one that the governor stated explicitly at a digital meeting of progressive activists on Monday:

“Why is it important to focus on Larry? Well, to put in perspective what’s at stake here. Some say he’s the most Trump of the candidates. I say he’s even more extreme than Trump.”

Gavin Newsom

Newsom and the Democratic Party have spent much of this election season characterizing the recall effort as the Golden State version of a Trump rally — an easy strategy in California where the former president is exceptionally unpopular. 

But that line didn’t quite work when former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer — a relative moderate who believes in climate change and more accommodating immigration policy — was leading the pack.

It lands a bit more seamlessly with Elder. 

Newsom has had some success in the past hyping up the candidate he wants to run against. But he should be careful what he wishes for, Claremont McKenna College professor Jack Pitney told me.

Sometimes a candidate you think is an easy target turns out not to be. A classic example in California is 1966.

Jack Pitney

That year, then-Gov. Pat Brown (Jerry’s dad) was deathly afraid of facing George Christopher, then San Francisco’s mayor, and “covertly sabotaged” his campaign, preferring instead to go up against an inexperienced actor named Ronald Reagan. 

How’d that work out?