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Larry Elder’s encore race could be important for black conservatives


Corrin Rankin is black and conservative. She knows she’s rare, especially in California.

So when the longtime political agent talks about her decision in 2019 to create the Legacy Republican Alliance, a political action committee designed to recruit black people into the GOP, she does so with the measured optimism that one might expect. expect.

“We were like, let’s just start with the basics. First of all, let’s show people that there are black people in the room, ”Rankin told me from his home in Stockton. “You have to crawl before you can walk.

Or not.

On Tuesday, voters will decide whether a black Tory named Larry Elder will become California’s next governor – an almost certain turn of events if Gavin Newsom is recalled.

The shift from struggling to find black Republicans willing to run for minor positions to the possibility of having one as head of the executive in Sacramento has been, in a word that Rankin often repeats, “surprising.”

“Win or lose has got people talking about what black conservatism looks like,” said Rankin, Central Valley region vice president for the Republican Party of California. “And some people will say, yes, this is what it should look like. And some people will say, no, that’s not what it should look like. But at the end of the day, we have this conversation now. We weren’t last year.

Jonathan Madison, a black man and Bay Area vice president for the California GOP, put it more bluntly:

“I think this potentially paves the way for a number of other conservatives, especially minorities, African Americans, to run for a more important position,” he said, “to dream big, to pave the way for us to truly have a voice. “

Skeptical? Me too.

After all, it’s still California, where only about 6% of likely Republican voters are black, according to the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California, and where the GOP is 2 to 1 outnumbered to Democrats.

We’re also talking about Elder, a candidate who, despite growing up in the south-central Los Angeles neighborhood, didn’t put much effort into courting black voters. He campaigns in churches, for example, but not in black churches.

He also doesn’t have many black allies – at least not who have surfaced publicly. In fact, most black conservatives seem to remain neutral on the recall and silent about Elder, save for their praise for his hard work which has risen through the ranks of talk radio.

One exception is Johnnie Morgan, chairman of the California Republican Assembly, a conservative rights group that has backed Elder.

Meanwhile, Tamika Hamilton, a black conservative running against Democratic Representative John Garamendi in Northern California, backed Elder’s rival, Assembly Member Kevin Kiley.

“More than ever, we need someone to bring everyone together,” said Hamilton. “And as [radio] commentator, sometimes you say things to piss people off and I think a lot of the things he’s said over the years don’t really represent a message that’s going to bridge a gap and bring people together.

To put it mildly, in the opinion of this Democrat.

However, it was Elder’s very division, honed during his many years of fighting on radio, that placed him in the singular position of politically breaking through where other black conservatives have failed.

“He has the ability to connect with people in a way that a lot of people just don’t have,” Madison said.

It’s also the undeniable desirability of Elder’s insurgency campaign: its ability to grab attention.

“What we need is someone who can communicate vision direction,” said Craig DeLuz, a black man and spokesperson for the California Republican Assembly. “Someone who can excite people, but also create a statewide campaign that’s going to have lines for declining candidates. Because we need more.

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To understand who would actually want that kind of attention, you first need to understand how insulating it must be to be a black curator.

For decades, most black Americans have leaned to the left, consistently supporting a strong government-run social safety net and voting Democrats to protect it. Those black Americans who dared to venture out or turn completely to Republican politics were either rejected or castigated for it.

“To a large extent the black community is convinced that if you don’t vote Democrat you are not black,” DeLuz said. “If you are a black conservative, you have to constantly stand up for why you made the choice you made.”

“It’s almost like, ‘Oh, you’re the bogeyman,’” Hamilton added.

Such thinking has (naturally) become even more pronounced since Donald Trump was elected president, completing the transformation of the Republican Party into a welcome from white supremacists.

So nowadays black conservatives are seen more as characters than real people.

There are the smart but misguided clearance sales. Think of former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and Kentucky Atty. General Daniel Cameron.

And there are the hucksters and the opportunistic junkies. Think of Omarosa Manigault Newman, Diamond and Silk, and Candace Owens.

Elder seems to be inspired by both categories. He’s both an Ivy League college graduate and a shameless media gadfly.

But Rankin, who was a member of the Black Voices for Trump advisory board during the 2020 presidential campaign, insists there are other types of black conservatives as well.

Pragmatic guys who were drawn to Republican politics because of party politics and rarely get attention because they don’t pontificate on Fox News or Twitter. Instead, they are working behind the scenes with Democrats for the good of their communities.

“What can get lost in a top-level race like this is that black conservatism isn’t just represented by one person, is it? Said Micah Grant, who worked in communications for several Republican officials in Sacramento. “People might not believe it, but we are still a very diverse group, many of whom are elected and looking to bridge the gaps, to govern and to get things done. “

Recalling gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder, second from left, speaks with supporters Monday in Los Angeles.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Grant, for example, also grew up in the south-central and embarked on Republican politics, in part because he was offered an internship by former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Then he plunged deeper into education policy.

“I had a lot of great teachers,” he said. “But at the same time, I think there is a paradigm shift that needs to happen in California for students of color in particular to be more successful. I have found more than one house on the education reform and Republican Party side.

Rankin changed parties after inheriting his family’s bail business in Redwood City, wary of criminal justice reformers. DeLuz cited his experience winning an elected post in the student government while attending Chico State, even though he was one of the few black students on campus. Hamilton, meanwhile, pointed to her “traditional family values” as a big reason for her party affiliation.

“There is a bigger picture,” Rankin said of his black conservative colleagues.

The question is whether Elder, who has built his career ransacking the black community to entertain white listeners, is the right person to appeal to these more moderate, partisan and curious blacks.

Or is he just the person who will once and for all define black conservatism in his harsh image, inspiring even more black Republicans of his ilk to run for office in the future? Shiver the thought.

As President Biden said of Elder as he rushed to Newsom in Long Beach on Monday night, “the leading Republican running for governor is the closest thing to a Trump clone that I ‘ve never seen “.

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In a way, Rankin isn’t too worried.

“I understand the concerns of the black community – I deeply understand, ”she told me. “But in fairness to Larry, I saw him start to evolve from a shock jock to a candidate. I think I would like to see him do more black media.

It would be nice.

“There really has to be an understanding that if he’s elected it’s California. This is not Texas, “she continued.” There should be a deep understanding that you represent everyone, not just the people who voted for you. ”

As Tuesday’s recall election loomed, support for Elder was highest among white Californians and Latinos, according to a CBS News poll. Among black Californians surveyed, only 14% said they would vote for him.

“I like to think of our party like a big tent,” Rankin said. “And I don’t feel like I have to agree with everything everyone else says, [but] at the end of the day, I’m glad there are more black Republicans. And I hope they keep coming.