The California U.S. Senate Race And A Steyer Insurgency

Richard Rubin
Attorney Richard Rubin has taught public policy at USF, UC Berkeley and other institutions and is Chair of the California Commonwealth Club Board of Governors

Tom Steyer, the self-styled Democratic activist and billionaire who has made little secret of his desire to be the next Senator from California has spent in excess of $10 million of his estimable fortune, but not to replace long-time incumbent. Diane Feinstein.

That may come later.

His company, Next Gen Climate, a San Francisco based environmental advocacy group from which the hedge fund wizard has spun off several others has earned him $30 billion. That’s more than enough to launch a campaign should he decide to run.

Meanwhile Steyer’s only thinly disguised ambition has led to promotion of a no-holds barred TV ad running in 50 states calling for the impeachment of the president.

His over-the-top monologue is drawing widespread attention and apparently gaining favor among the millennials who California candidates need in their camp if they intend to win.

Interestingly if Steyer were somehow to accomplish that feat which is not a very good bet, his blatant call for Trump’s removal would probably force him to recuse himself were the matter ever to come before the Senate which is constitutionally empowered to hold a trial.

Nearly 2 million people have already signed his petition to oust Donald Trump impeachment petition who Steyer has declared “a clear and present danger” for the nation.

That is getting him visibility but it will mean practically nothing where it would count the most, and that’s in the House of Representatives currently in the firm if shaky control of the GOP whose members get first crack at voting for Articles of Impeachment.

Neither body is showing any signs of wanting to take such draconian action even as Trump’s popularity in the most recent polls has plummeted to an all-time low of 34% for any president barely nine months into office.

Steyer’s bravado may be scoring points with his party’s liberal wing and some environmentalists, but it poses little danger that members of Trump’s party are ready to defy him before there is clear and convincing evidence that their careers may not survive unless they do so.

That will be better known after the 2018 mid-term elections when all 435 members of the House will be on the ballots except those—the majority of them GOP members—who have decided to throw in the towel beforehand.

The resounding Democratic wins in the New Jersey and Virginia off-year elections for Governor powered mainly by suburbanites and defecting upper middle class voters who Trump rode to victory should be cause for alarm if not panic.

A big question is whether these losses will carry over into next year’s congressional races?

In California it is believed that seven GOP congressional seats are in play with only two Democratic ones considered vulnerable. The seven are all in districts which Clinton carried over Trump.

Currently there are 241 Republicans and 194 Democrats in the House. In the Senate, Republicans are defending 9 seats compared to 25 for the Democrats.

In the House some pollsters see as many as 61 GOP seats competitive compared to 20 Democratic seats. All these numbers are bound to shift over the next 12 months.

Historically, since the 1930s, the new presidential incumbent’s party has lost an average of 23 seats in the following midterm elections. This year 22 Republicans and 10 Democrats have said they will not be seeking reelection, and historically open seats flip in favor of the party out of power.

In California where Hillary Clinton easily stomped her opponent by over 3 million votes an insurgent candidacy such as Steyer’s against a sitting Senator with immense popularity who has already collected over $7 million toward her campaign before it has started is not likely to get very far.

In fact, the decision to run by Democrat, Kevin de Leon, the personable President Pro-Tem of the state Senate who will have the backing of many party activists, might cause Feinstein to welcome Steyer’s entry since he could be expected to take away votes from de Leon.

After Bernie Sander’s strong showing in the California primary—his 2.4 million votes even surprised the Clinton forces— Feinstein has more to fear if a rejuvenated left wing coalesces around an experienced progressive candidate with strong appeal.

Steyer who is relatively unknown despite his growing notoriety is not that person and business moguls even with vast wealth have not fared particularly well against established incumbents. Just ask Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett Packard CEO who was eviscerated by retired liberal firebrand, Sen. Barbara Boxer, in their 2010 Senate match-up.

The same year Gov. Jerry Brown ran against the GOP candidate and current HP CEO, Meg Whitman, one of the wealthiest women in America, with the same result.

Feinstein, however, with her decidedly more moderate credentials could find it tougher sledding if the tables were turned and California’s leftish tilt becomes a more dominant force.

She did herself no favor in an August appearance before the Commonwealth Club when the San Francisco Chronicle reported she “shocked the crowd when she declined to say that Trump should be impeached, and that Trump might in time become a “good president” if he was willing to learn and change.”

Those comments which could hound the campaign may anger her more rabid anti-Trump constituents. But it is exactly the kind of cautious temperament that will be needed by someone who may be called upon to sit in final judgement of this president.

Some influential voices in the party have quietly suggested that Feinstein who would be 91 at the completion of her sixth term if she won should step aside, making room for new blood.

However the most recent Gallup Poll shows her with a commanding lead over de Leon who is 51 and with no Republican candidate to worry much about he will be her most formidable opponent in a three-person race.

Barring any more verbal blunders, the state’s senior senator who is a seasoned politician with enormous respect on both sides of the aisle and the Senate’s leading advocate for tougher gun controls—a stand that continues to resonate well among California voters especially in the aftermath of the Las Vegas and Texas massacres—should have little trouble dispatching Steyer if he decides to throw his hat in the ring.

In fact if the enterprising capitalist wants to help save democracy, he might want to consider spending his money by teaming up with Silicon Valley’s geniuses to devise foolproof ways of thwarting Russia’s outrageous hacking of campaign data for the purpose of disrupting an American election.

There is little doubt that the Russians have developed some very sophisticated technology which they have every intention of deploying in future elections. A greater or more insidious threat to our freedom and independence is unimaginable.

If Special Prosecutor, Robert Mueller’s investigations result in indictable charges of collusion and possibly conspiracy between the Russians and high-level Trump aides that ensnare the president, impeachment talk will no longer be fanciful.

House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi (D-SF) has said she would prefer that Steyer spend his dollars in other states to help first-time Democratic challengers in competitive races and to offset the millions which the GOP is also primed to invest in these campaigns.

California with its enormous clout and a presidential primary that is now pushed back to March has the potential to flip House control back to the Democrats in 2018 and make it the central battleground that could alter the electoral outcome in the 2020 presidential election.

If Steyer were to join the political fray it more than likely would turn into the most costly senatorial campaign in U.S. history exceeding the over $200 million spent in the Whitman-Brown gubernatorial race.

Since the outcome under the top-two primary system in this deep Blue state has become a foregone conclusion, Steyer might at best succeed in siphoning off enough votes to put a GOP candidate into the finals with negligible results for himself while earning the everlasting wrath of California Democrats in the process.

But, if Steyer wants the gratitude of all Americans and perhaps a shot at political office in the future, helping to finance a solution to Russian meddling could be his best option.

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