GOP Split May Boost Sanchez

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe & Doug Jeffe

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, Professor of the Practice of Public Policy Communication, Sol Price School of Public Policy and Doug Jeffe, Communications and Public Affairs Strategist


It is ironic that the Republican author of the initiative banning bilingual education has just given a boost to the U.S. Senate candidacy of Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez. The entry of Republican businessman Ron Unz into the race to succeed retiring Senator Barbara Boxer makes it even more likely that the November run-off will be between two Democrats—Sanchez and California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

Under the state’s primary system, the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, will advance to the November election. With Democrats holding a sizable registration advantage and fielding better known candidates, the GOP would have to rally solidly around a single candidate, to have any hope of competing in the fall run-off. Instead, Republican Unz recently joined two former State GOP chairs, Duf Sundheim and Tom Del Beccaro, on the June ballot.

The latest PPIC poll has Harris ahead of Sanchez—26% to 17% with Del Beccaro (9%) and Sundheim (6%) lagging behind. Unz, a late entrant to the race, was not included in the survey, but would likely take votes from GOP candidates Del Beccaro and Sundheim. Almost a third of California voters are undecided. Harris and Sanchez also hold significant leads in fund-raising, although Unz is capable of self-funding his campaign.

Democrats currently hold a 43% to 28% registration advantage over Republicans, with non-aligned voters, accounting for almost a quarter of the potential state electorate. Republican Senate odds could be helped by a heavy turn-out in the June Presidential primary—particularly if the Clinton-Sanders race is essentially over before California, and Ted Cruz, John Kasich and the Republican establishment are still engaged in a pitched battle to stop Donald Trump. But any spike in GOP turnout because of a heated Presidential contest won’t likely help the party’s Senate candidates catch their Democratic opponents. The three-way split in the Republican Senate vote could well obviate any turnout advantage for the GOP.

A Harris-Sanchez face off in November could be wild and wooly. Harris has the advantage of running statewide twice, strong name-recognition and she has Democratic establishment backing. Sanchez will seek to energize her Latino base and make the most of her 20 years in Congress and seniority on the House Armed Services Committee and the Homeland Security Committee.

Sanchez will also counter Harris’s northern California advantage with her own base in Orange County and parts of Los Angeles County.

A recent PPIC survey showed that, while 24% of Democratic likely voters are undecided, fully 41 percent of Republican likely voters and 37 percent of independents have yet to make up their minds.

In another irony, it may be these Republicans and independents who cast the deciding votes in November in a contest between Democrats Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez.

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