High Hopes Dashed at Larry Elder’s Party After Recall Defeat

Mr. Elder, the Republican front-runner, told a crowd of supporters in Orange County late Tuesday night: “Let’s be gracious in defeat.”,

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High hopes for victory at Larry Elder’s party, and then a concession.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 1:36 a.m. ET

Sept. 15, 2021, 1:36 a.m. ET

A supporter of Larry Elder stands inside an empty ballroom before the start of an Election Night watch party in Orange County.
A supporter of Larry Elder stands inside an empty ballroom before the start of an Election Night watch party in Orange County.Credit…Mark Abramson for The New York Times

COSTA MESA, Calif. — About 10 minutes before the polls closed, supporters of Larry Elder, the leading Republican candidate, began streaming into a hotel ballroom in Orange County, sipping wine and whiskey sours. The band played “The Girl From Ipanema” and the stage was ringed by red-white-and-blue bunting, as attendees waited for Mr. Elder.

Just after polls closed at 8 p.m., Fred Whitaker, the chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, warned the crowd — inaccurately, it turned out — that it was likely to be a long night, because early results were likely to favor the Democrats. “Enjoy the food,” he said. “Enjoy the drink.”

And then they prayed.

Pastor Jack Hibbs of Calvary Chapel in Chino Hills thanked God for creating California. “We pray, we ask of you, to grant victory,” he said.

Later, after The Associated Press called the race for Gov. Gavin Newsom, Mr. Elder spoke to the crowd and conceded.

“Let’s be gracious in defeat,” he said, adding, “We may have lost the battle, but we are going to win the war.”

The packed ballroom cheered.

Throughout the campaign, Mr. Elder made baseless claims about election fraud, echoing former President Donald J. Trump. He had previously suggested he would challenge the results if he lost and Mr. Newsom kept his job. But on Tuesday night, he did not say whether he planned to contest the results.

At the event, which the candidate billed as a “victory party,” some of Mr. Elder’s supporters said they would accept defeat if it arrived. “Of course,” said Cheryl Rosenberg, an educator in the Inland Empire. “I’m not going to call cheating.”

Ms. Rosenberg, 57, raced to the Costa Mesa hotel straight from work with her friend and colleague, Susan Sawyer, both wearing American-flag-themed attire. Ms. Sawyer also said she would also accept the election’s outcome if it didn’t favor Mr. Elder.

But Ms. Sawyer, 58, said that in any case, she had already decided to leave California because of its cost of living. A lifelong Californian, she said she wished she could stay. But she and her husband are close to retirement, and believe they can’t afford to spend their golden years in the state. So they recently sold their house for $720,000 and will move to Arizona.

“We’re just going to take the money and run,” she said.

The two friends were ecstatic when the recall effort qualified for the ballot, both believing that Mr. Newsom has been “a horrible governor.” They decided to support Mr. Elder, a conservative radio host, because he was not a career politician and had what they said were common-sense solutions to problems such as wildfires and the homelessness crisis.

“He wants a California that we want back,” Ms. Rosenberg said.

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