In the Se­nate race in Cal­i­for­nia, Repub­li­cans find a Demo­crat they can like

▶▶Cal­i­for­nia’s runoff pri­mary sys­tem has some GOP strate­gists back­ing a Demo­crat for se­na­tor ▶▶“A Repub­li­can can­di­date re­ally can’t win, at least the ones that are run­ning now”

Bloomberg Businessweek (Europe) - - CONTENTS - Josh Eidel­son, with Tim Hig­gins

“You can say it’s hu­mil­i­at­ing if there’s no Repub­li­can on the bal­lot. You can say it’s also hu­mil­i­at­ing if the Repub­li­can loses by 30 points.” GOP Se­nate can­di­date Ron Unz

A dozen Repub­li­cans are com­pet­ing to suc­ceed U.S. Se­na­tor Bar­bara Boxer, whose re­tire­ment is open­ing one of Cal­i­for­nia’s two seats for the first time since 1992. But prom­i­nent GOP con­sul­tants are talk­ing up a Demo­crat: Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Loretta Sanchez, a 10-term con­gress­woman from Or­ange County, a long­time Repub­li­can strong­hold.

In 2012, Cal­i­for­nia be­gan hold­ing open pri­maries. The top two fin­ish­ers pro­ceed to a Novem­ber runoff, re­gard­less of their party af­fil­i­a­tion. Sanchez has con­sis­tently trailed her fel­low Demo­crat, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ka­mala Harris, who’s been en­dorsed by Gover­nor Jerry Brown and other party lead­ers. None of the Repub­li­can can­di­dates has polled higher than 9 per­cent, though al­most a third of likely vot­ers, in­clud­ing 46 per­cent of Repub­li­cans, re­mained un­de­cided two weeks be­fore the elec­tion, ac­cord­ing to the non­par­ti­san Pub­lic Pol­icy In­sti­tute of Cal­i­for­nia.

For the Cal­i­for­nia GOP, which hasn’t won a statewide race since Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger was re­elected gover­nor in 2006, the prospect of a face­off be­tween Harris and Sanchez in the fall is an in­vi­ta­tion to play king­maker. “You will see Repub­li­can op­er­a­tives and busi­ness or­ga­ni­za­tions work­ing ag­gres­sively to sup­port Loretta Sanchez,” says strate­gist Mike Madrid, a for­mer state GOP po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tor. “That is where most of us will go.”

Stu Moll­rich, a me­dia strate­gist who worked for Sch­warzeneg­ger— as well as for Carly Fio­r­ina, who ran against Boxer in 2010 and lost badly— is al­ready ac­tively back­ing Sanchez. “You look at that com­bi­na­tion of mod­er­ate views, be­ing able to work in a bi­par­ti­san way, and be­ing very, very strong on na­tional se­cu­rity—that’s a good port­fo­lio,” says Moll­rich, who’s ad­vis­ing a pro-Sanchez su­per PAC called Cal­i­for­nia’s New Fron­tier.

In the House, Sanchez has joined Repub­li­cans on some is­sues, in­clud­ing shield­ing gun man­u­fac­tur­ers from li­a­bil­ity and curb­ing reg­u­la­tions on for-profit col­leges. In a closely di­vided Se­nate, hav­ing a Demo­crat will­ing to side with Repub­li­cans could help the GOP.

Cal­i­for­nia’s New Fron­tier has re­ported rais­ing about $90,000 from a hand­ful of donors, in­clud­ing Ginny Ue­ber­roth, whose hus­band, Peter, the for­mer Ma­jor League Baseball com­mis­sioner, ran un­suc­cess­fully for gover­nor in 2003. “A Repub­li­can can­di­date re­ally can’t win, at least the ones that are run­ning now,” Moll­rich says. “None of them can.”

Even some of the can­di­dates seem to agree with that as­sess­ment. “You can say it’s hu­mil­i­at­ing if there’s no Repub­li­can on the bal­lot. You can say it’s also hu­mil­i­at­ing if the Repub­li­can loses by 30 points,” says GOP Se­nate hope­ful Ron Unz, a soft­ware de­vel­oper who first made his name in Cal­i­for­nia in 1994 as a 32-year-old novice. That year, Unz ran against Pete Wil­son in the Repub­li­can pri­mary and won more than a third of the vote. In 1998, Unz suc­cess­fully spon­sored a bal­lot mea­sure that ef­fec­tively ended most bilin­gual ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams in the state. (A mea­sure on this year’s Novem­ber bal­lot would re­peal most of its pro­vi­sions.)

Unz is run­ning for Boxer’s seat in part to pro­mote his plan to raise the min­i­mum wage and dras­ti­cally re­duce im­mi­gra­tion to the U.S., in­clud­ing le­gal im­mi­gra­tion. “This could be two of the most cost-ef­fec­tive months I’ve ever spent,” Unz says. He says he hopes sup­port­ers of Don­ald Trump and Bernie San­ders will warm to his mes­sage.

An­other Repub­li­can Se­nate can­di­date, for­mer state GOP Chair­man Duf Sund­heim, says the trou­ble lies in his party’s fail­ure to unify be­hind a sin­gle stan­dard-bearer. Sund­heim tried un­suc­cess­fully to bro­ker a deal in which ev­ery Repub­li­can ex­cept the front-run­ner would drop out by March. Tom Del Bec­caro, an­other for­mer state GOP chair­man run­ning for Boxer’s seat, says he didn’t agree to the plan be­cause he didn’t be­lieve Sund­heim would let some­one else be the party’s can­di­date. “We’re a weak party if we can’t trust each other enough,” Sund­heim says.

The three lead­ing Repub­li­cans in the race—Del Bec­caro, Unz, and Sund­heim—have raised more than $900,000 among them. Sep­a­rately, a su­per PAC funded by Charles Munger Jr. re­ported spend­ing more than $50,000 as of late May to sup­port Sund­heim’s cam­paign. An­other newly formed su­per PAC, Cal­i­for­ni­ans for Fis­cal Re­spon­si­bil­ity, re­ported spend­ing more than $500,000 on Sund­heim’s be­half from May 23 to May 31, in­clud­ing $380,000 for a direct-mail cam­paign op­pos­ing Del Bec­caro, who polls slightly higher than Unz and Sund­heim. “The Es­tab­lish­ment’s af­ter me,” Del Bec­caro says of the ef­forts to hurt his can­di­dacy.

By com­par­i­son, Harris has raised about $11 mil­lion, and Sanchez has brought in $3.6 mil­lion, in­clud­ing money she trans­ferred from her House re­elec­tion com­mit­tee. Along with their fi­nan­cial ad­van­tage, both Democrats are ex­pected to en­joy a boost, thanks to the un­fin­ished Demo­cratic pri­mary con­test be­tween San­ders and Hil­lary Clin­ton. On the Repub­li­can side, Trump’s vic­tory may dampen en­thu­si­asm and turnout.

A surge of new reg­is­tra­tions has swelled Cal­i­for­nia’s voter rolls by more than 2 mil­lion since the be­gin­ning of 2016, ac­cord­ing to Po­lit­i­cal Data, a non­par­ti­san data an­a­lyt­ics com­pany. About half of the new­com­ers are Democrats; fewer than a quar­ter are Repub­li­cans. “This is mas­sive, un­prece­dented, big­ger than we’ve ever seen it,” says Po­lit­i­cal Data Vice Pres­i­dent Paul Mitchell.

In the May Pub­lic Pol­icy In­sti­tute poll, 51 per­cent of Repub­li­cans said they’d skip vot­ing in the Se­nate race if there are only Democrats on the Novem­ber bal­lot. That in­cludes peo­ple like Chris­tine Eskola, a re­tiree who at­tended Trump’s May 25 rally in Ana­heim, a city in Sanchez’s con­gres­sional district. Eskola says she’d never vote for a Demo­crat and plans to write in a can­di­date in Novem­ber if it’s a Sanchez-Harris matchup. “They stand for open borders,” she says. “We can’t do that. America won’t last.”

Moll­rich says he can bring skep­ti­cal Repub­li­cans around. As a rea­son for GOP vot­ers to pick Sanchez—even

if they don’t like the idea of vot­ing for a Demo­crat—he cites a re­cent Harris cam­paign ad fea­tur­ing Mas­sachusetts Se­na­tor El­iz­a­beth War­ren, who has en­dorsed Harris. “That just makes it so clear: If you love El­iz­a­beth War­ren, maybe you’ll like Ka­mala Harris,” he says. “And if you get her, you may have to love her for the next 24, 30 years.”

Oth­ers echoed the same idea. “It’s go­ing to be a Demo­cratic seat no mat­ter what,” says Reed Galen, who was deputy cam­paign man­ager for Sch­warzeneg­ger’s 2006 re­elec­tion. Sanchez, he says, “would be the only le­git­i­mate op­tion for the vast ma­jor­ity of Repub­li­cans.”

Harris’s cam­paign de­clined to com­ment at length on the prospect of Repub­li­cans co­a­lesc­ing be­hind Sanchez. “I’ll let those folks ex­plain their mo­tives,” says Harris spokesman Nathan Click. “We’re pre­pared, what­ever the out­come is.”

The bot­tom line Repub­li­cans are gath­er­ing be­hind Demo­crat Loretta Sanchez in the race for the seat be­ing va­cated by U.S. Se­na­tor Bar­bara Boxer.

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