SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has changed tactics in his campaign for California governor, criticizing fellow Republican Larry Elder, the conservative radio host who has emerged as a GOP front-runner in the recall election that could remove Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom.
In an odd political twist, Faulconer has joined Newsom in targeting Elder, a late entry in the race whose name recognition especially among conservatives elevated him among other GOP candidates.
The typically mild-mannered Faulconer first criticized Elder on Tuesday night at a debate Elder skipped, using an expletive to describe Elder’s belief, written in a 2002 book, that employers should be able to ask women if and when they plan to get pregnant.
State and federal laws ban workplace discrimination based on pregnancy. On Wednesday, Elder was asked at a news conference if he still held the view expressed in the book. He answered that “government should not be intruding into the relationship between employer and employee.”
A short time later, Faulconer repeated his criticism.
“It’s shocking. It’s not what he said 20 year ago, it’s about what he just said today,” Faulconer said in an interview with The Associated Press. “This is a wake up call to every California woman and family.”
Faulconer also hit Elder for declining to debate his fellow Republicans. Elder has skipped two debates and does not plan to appear at a third planned for Thursday. Newsom has also skipped debates.
“People are voting right now, and it’s also clear that he won’t debate, he won’t stand up to defend his positions. What else is he hiding?” Faulconer said.
Most people vote by mail in California and some already have begun returning ballots for the Sept. 14 election.
Faulconer, a moderate, once was seen as the favorite among GOP candidates, based on his successful runs for mayor of San Diego, a Democratic-leaning city. That Faulconer is now joining Newsom in criticizing Elder reflects his need for a breakout moment that can change his trajectory in the race.
Faulconer said he hopes to appeal to undecided voters, and reiterated his position that climate change is real and that Democrat Joe Biden rightfully won the presidential election.
Newsom, meantime, had barely mentioned Elder until recently but a campaign ad released Monday called Elder “the top Republican candidate” and highlighted his opposition to mask and vaccine mandates that Newsom supports. The ad termed the election a “matter of life and death.”
During his news conference Wednesday, Elder focused on California’s wildfires and forest management. When asked, he declined to hit back at Faulconer but at one point got into a spat with a reporter who questioned him about another issue Faulconer brought up at the debate.
Faulconer highlighted a 2000 article by Elder where he wrote: “Women know less than men about political issues, economics, and current events.” The piece referred to a study by the Annenberg School at the University of Pennsylvania, which found men knew more than women on more than a dozen topics.
A reporter read the passage then asked, “is that what you believe, that men are smarter than women?” Elder then accused the reporter of misquoting him, leading to a short, tense exchange. Elder reiterated he was referring to a study, and declined to directly address Faulconer’s criticism.
California Republican U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, who joined and endorsed Elder, jumped in and said Elder’s opponents “ought to be focused on Gavin Newsom instead of other Republicans with scurrilous things like that.”
The recall was driven by Republicans upset with Newsom’s liberal policies and actions during the pandemic, which they believe were overly restrictive toward businesses and personal freedoms.
The election ballot asks voters whether Newsom should be recalled and, if so, who should replace him. Faulconer is one of 46 candidates on the ballot, which does not include another prominent elected Democrat. Newsom has instructed supporters to vote no on the recall and leave the replacement question blank.
Faulconer called that a message that disenfranchises voters.
“You have a choice. Don’t give away your voice and your vote because Gavin Newsom wants you to,” he said.