The Impossibility of a Republican US Senator

Tony Quinn
Editor, California Target Book

Democratic Attorney General Kamala Harris is becoming more and more the inevitable successor to Sen. Barbara Boxer, but one thing will assure Harris’s election, and that is if a Republican ends up in the top two runoff against her.  It is impossible for any Republican to be elected United States Senator from California.

That is because federal offices have become the symbol of our polarized nation.  Consider Sen. James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma.  Inhofe is congress’s leading climate change denier; he regularly calls global warming a fraud and a hoax.  So you would think he would be seriously challenged when he ran for re-election last year, but you would be wrong.  Inhofe won re-election in Oklahoma by 68 percent.

That’s because Oklahoma is a solidly Republican state; there are no Democrats in its congressional delegation.  Its voters are perfectly happy with Inhofe, especially since he has now replaced Boxer as the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

But would Californians ever vote for climate change denier Inhofe?  Fat chance.  However, a vote for a Republican candidate for US Senate in 2016 would be a vote to keep Inhofe as chairman of the environmental committee.  Californians would not do that.

We now have a quasi parliamentary system in America.  People once voted “the man not the party”; that’s not true anymore.  A congressional vote is taking sides in a polarized political system.  That was apparent in 2012 when the vote for US Senate in California tracked almost exactly the presidential vote. People do not split their vote between president and congress.  Does anybody think for a second the vote for president will be even be remotely close in California next year?

This reality is shown in the recent Field Poll on the Senate race, which ranked voters as “inclined” or “not inclined” to vote for 18 possible candidates.  Leading the pack was former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, but she is not a candidate.  Next in the inclined category was Attorney General Harris, with 46 percent of voters inclined to vote for her.  She was followed by ten other potential Democratic candidates.

After all these Democrats came the Republicans, and the leading Republican was former State Sen. Phil Wyman with 24 percent inclined to vote for him.  Every other Republican trailed, including three people talked about as potential GOP candidates.

In 16th place with 21 percent inclined to vote for him was former state party chairman Tom Del Becarro, followed by Assemblyman Rocky Chavez of San Diego in 17th place with 20 percent inclined and bringing up the rear was former party chairman Duf Sundheim.

Of all the Republicans the most qualified, on paper at least, may be Assemblyman Chavez, but he is also the least likely to make the runoff.  The 2014 election showed that Republican voters will not vote for GOP candidates with a Latino name.   Heavily favored Republican State Senate candidate Bonnie Garcia lost to a white Republican despite the full backing of the GOP establishment and $2 million in independent expenditures.  And on the other side of the ledger, Latinos will not vote for a Republican, even a fellow Latino.

The final issue is money.  Republicans now hold 54 US Senate seats, but in 2016, 24 GOP Senators are up for re-election against just 10 Democrats.  Seven of the Republicans are in states that President Obama carried twice, and four of these seats are no better than toss-ups for re-election, according to the authoritative Rothenberg Gonzales Political Report.  The GOP is on very thin ice keeping its Senate majority.

Republican money in the hundreds of millions of dollars will go toward holding the US Senate, especially since control of the US Supreme Court probably rides on who is elected president in 2016 and which party controls the Senate.  There will be no money for California.

Harris’s first endorsement following her announcement was US Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and the probability is that Harris as Senator will join the far left of the Democratic Senate caucus.  It remains to be seen if business-oriented interest groups will try to stop her or just assume that Harris is inevitable.  But if they do so, it will require finding a credible Democrat who might make the top two runoff in November 2016 against Harris.

But if Harris ends up running against a Republican in 2016, her only task will be to measure the curtains in her new Senate office.

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