Repub­li­cans eye chances in up­hill race for gover­nor

A vi­able can­di­date could be cru­cial to driv­ing GOP vot­ers to the polls in midterm con­gres­sional bat­tles.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Seema Me­hta and Phil Wil­lon

The GOP may be in dire straits in Cal­i­for­nia, but a flurry of re­cent moves sug­gests the party of Ron­ald Rea­gan and Richard Nixon is not willing to aban­don the 2018 gu­ber­na­to­rial race, as it did four years ago.

The big ques­tion is if the party will be able to mar­shal enough sup­port be­hind a Repub­li­can can­di­date for gover­nor and avoid a re­peat of last fall’s Se­nate cam­paign, which, thanks to the top-two pri­mary, was fought be­tween two Demo­cratic can­di­dates.

Sev­eral Repub­li­cans are in the mix. They in­clude con­ser­va­tive Or­ange County As­sem­bly­man Travis Allen and Ran­cho Santa Fe ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist John Cox. Spec­u­la­tion is mount­ing that former state As­sem­bly­man David Hadley plans to an­nounce a run. There also are fu­ri­ous ef­forts to re­cruit San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer into the race, be­cause he is viewed as the strong­est pos­si­ble con­tender.

“It is ex­cit­ing,” said Shawn Steel, a Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee mem­ber from Or­ange County. He said the GOP could ex­ploit what he calls Demo­cratic over­reach in Sacra­mento, in­clud­ing the pas­sage of an un­pop­u­lar new gas tax. That plus grow­ing alarm over qual­ity of life is­sues in Cal­i­for­nia could give Repub­li­cans an open­ing among vot­ers who have typ­i­cally not sup­ported his party’s candi- dates, he said. “I’m not count­ing on any­thing as be­ing cer­tain in pol­i­tics, but I never ex­pected [Pres­i­dent] Trump to win, for good­ness sakes, and was de­lighted when he up­set all the pun­dits.”

A vi­able Repub­li­can topof-the-ticket can­di­date could be cru­cial to driv­ing GOP vot­ers to the polls in seven Cal­i­for­nia House races that are ex­pected to be battlegrounds in the 2018 midterms.

House Ma­jor­ity Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bak­ers­field) is con­cerned about next year’s turnout, and has been work­ing hard try­ing to con­vince Faulconer to en­ter the race and show him he has a path to vic­tory, ac­cord­ing to mul­ti­ple peo­ple fa­mil­iar with McCarthy’s ef­forts who were not au­tho­rized to dis­cuss them.

Party Chair­man Jim Brulte has made at least one per­sonal ap­peal to the mayor dur­ing a face-to-face visit to San Diego.

On pa­per, the ef­forts

make sense — Faulconer is the type of Repub­li­can that po­lit­i­cal ob­servers be­lieve has the best shot of win­ning statewide of­fice in Cal­i­for­nia. He’s a fis­cal con­ser­va­tive and so­cial mod­er­ate who is not viewed as an ide­o­logue. He has dis­tanced him­self from Trump. He’s also the only GOP mayor lead­ing one of the na­tion’s 10 largest cities, and was elected twice de­spite Democrats’ six-point voter regis­tra­tion edge in San Diego.

GOP strate­gists fa­mil­iar with his think­ing say he is now weigh­ing en­ter­ing the race, even though he pre­vi­ously said he had no in­ten­tion of run­ning. Faulconer’s spokes­peo­ple did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

Af­ter the can­di­date co­nun­drum, there is the ques­tion of a GOP path to vic­tory in a state were Democrats dom­i­nate.

Democrats un­suc­cess­fully tried to use an an­tiTrump mes­sage in four re­cent spe­cial con­gres­sional elec­tions across the coun­try. But Repub­li­cans had stronger ad­van­tages in those dis­tricts. In Cal­i­for­nia, Trump was trounced by Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton by more than 4.2 mil­lion votes, a re­flec­tion of the party’s dom­i­na­tion of state pol­i­tics.

Repub­li­cans last elected a statewide can­di­date more than a decade ago, have seen voter regis­tra­tion plum­met to a 19-point dis­ad­van­tage to Democrats, and have re­peat­edly al­lowed the op­po­si­tion party to win su­per ma­jori­ties in both cham­bers of the state Leg­is­la­ture.

In 2014, the party’s lead­ers put no re­sources be­hind its stan­dard-bearer who ran against Gov. Jerry Brown. And in 2016, the GOP’s dwin­dling vot­ers in the state splin­tered in the pri­mary for the first open U.S. Se­nate seat in more than two decades. The re­sult was that two Democrats and no Repub­li­can ad­vanced to the gen­eral elec­tion.

Both elec­tions left pal­pa­ble anger that GOP ac­tivists ex­pressed at their an­nual con­ven­tion this year. The state party has pledged to com­pete in the 2018 gu­ber­na­to­rial con­test, although it was un­clear if the pledge in­cludes a plan or if lead­ers were of­fer­ing wish­ful think­ing to soothe party loy­al­ists.

“It’s im­por­tant for morale and turnout to have a Repub­li­can can­di­date on the Novem­ber bal­lot,” said Jack Pit­ney, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Clare­mont McKenna Col­lege and a former state GOP leader. “It was bad enough to be shut out of the Se­nate race in 2016, but the gover­nor’s race is a flag­ship race and the party needs to have a [cred­i­ble] can­di­date, but whether that hap­pens is an open ques­tion.”

The f ield so far

Allen, an as­sem­bly­man from Hunt­ing­ton Beach, is a tra­di­tional GOP con­ser­va­tive and a staunch Trump sup­porter. A fa­vorite of the party’s grass roots, Allen op­poses the adop­tion of a govern­ment-run health­care sys­tem and has voted con­sis­tently against in­creas­ing pro­tec­tions for im­mi­grants who en­tered the coun­try il­le­gally, stances that do not align with the ma­jor­ity of Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers. But he says even Democrats are “turned off” by the party’s re­cent moves. Ear­lier this year, Allen filed a bal­lot mea­sure to re­scind the gas tax passed by the Leg­is­la­ture. It’s an is­sue Repub­li­cans plan to cam­paign on in 2018, and al­ready has trig­gered a re­call cam­paign against a Demo­cratic state se­na­tor from Or­ange County.

Hadley, who rep­re­sented the South Bay in the state Assem­bly for two years, shares an ide­o­log­i­cal pro­file sim­i­lar to Faulconer’s, but he is not as well known. He has filed pa­per­work with the state to open a cam­paign fundrais­ing ac­count but has not for­mally launched a bid. He did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

Former L.A. Rams foot­ball player Rosey Grier has said he plans to run but has taken no for­mal steps to es­tab­lish a cam­paign.

The money prob­lem

Suc­cess­ful gu­ber­na­to­rial races in Cal­i­for­nia cost tens of mil­lions of dol­lars, and the three top Demo­cratic can­di­dates al­ready have raised more than $20 mil­lion col­lec­tively.

Pit­ney was skep­ti­cal the state’s deep-pock­eted GOP donors would in­vest in a race they know they are likely to lose, es­pe­cially given that the bat­tle for con­trol of Congress would siphon money and at­ten­tion to other com­pet­i­tive con­tests.

“Money would have to come from heaven,” Pit­ney said. “Donors want to put the money where it can have some ef­fect .... Why throw it to a race where the out­come is very likely a big Repub­li­can de­feat?”

Cox has the wealth to fund his own cam­paign, and al­ready has put in a per­sonal stake of $3 mil­lion. A source close to the can­di­date who was not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly about the cam­paign said Cox is willing to in­vest a cou­ple mil­lion more, but will not en­tirely self-fund his bid.

In 2014, such a dol­lar fig­ure was enough for busi­ness­man Neel Kashkari to win the sec­ond spot in the pri­mary and ad­vance to the gen­eral, where Brown crushed him by 19 points. But Kashkari had only one se­ri­ous Repub­li­can ri­val in the race, Tim Don­nelly, a con­tro­ver­sial then-as­sem­bly­man and former leader of the Min­ute­men bor­der-pa­trol group.

This time around, it’s more com­pli­cated. The more peo­ple jump in, the more they split up Repub­li­can vot­ers, in­creas­ing the like­li­hood of a Demo­crat-onDemo­crat brawl next Novem­ber.

Jon Fleis­chman, a con­ser­va­tive blog­ger based in Or­ange County and former state party of­fi­cial, summed up the prob­lems with a crowded GOP field. “[I]t’s en­tirely pos­si­ble Repub­li­cans avoid the em­bar­rass­ment of los­ing in Novem­ber by sim­ply los­ing in June.”

Gre­gory Bull As­so­ci­ated Press

SAN DIEGO Mayor Kevin Faulconer has been urged to run, but he has not said he would.

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