A Viable Republican Should Run Against Sen. Feinstein

Tony Quinn
Editor, California Target Book

Three Republicans are now running for governor, hoping one can slip into second place in the primary and make the fall runoff.  But that is unlikely given the four well funded Democrats in the race.  It is the Senate contest, completely overlooked so far, where there is an opening for a Republican.  That’s because incumbent Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein is showing remarkable weakness in early polling.

“New Senate poll raises questions about Dianne Feinstein’s re-election bid,” the San Jose Mercury News reported in December.  The poll, by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, found Feinstein leading her one serious opponent, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin DeLeon, by a margin of 41 to 27 percent.  Feinstein “shows weakness and vulnerability, much more so than in any of her past re-election campaigns,” said Mark DiCamillo, head of the IGS poll.

This survey only asked about Feinstein and DeLeon. But that will not be the June primary ballot; it could include as many as three dozen candidates, most completely unknown (37 candidates ran for the Senate in 2016).  In this poll, DeLeon’s base of support was with Republicans, which makes no sense since he is running well the left of Feinstein.  But Feinstein remains very unpopular with the state’s Republican electorate, that has regularly voted against her over the past quarter century.

Even more damaging for Feinstein is a new Survey USA Poll released January 10.  In this poll Feinstein is receiving only 34 percent, but the number two candidate is not fellow Democrat DeLeon, it is an unknown Republican named Timothy Charles Kalenkarian, who is getting six percent.  He is followed by three other unknown Republicans each getting five percent, and then comes DeLeon at a paltry four percent.

There is reason why this poll makes sense; if you put a Republican on the ballot, even an unknown one, DeLeon’s support craters, as Republican voters vote for a Republican.  While he is trying to run to Feinstein’s left, there is really no room to Feinstein’s left.  Her base of support are partisan Democrats.  She receives 58 percent of the Democratic vote to just six percent for DeLeon.  Even among Latinos, Feinstein handily beats DeLeon, with 31 percent of Latino voters to his nine percent.

And this is before Feinstein spends millions defining the little known DeLeon as the Senate leader whose roommate and fellow Democratic Senator Tony Mendoza has refused to resign despite highly credible sexual harassment charge against him.  Feinstein would much rather run against a Republican next fall than a fellow Democrat, so she is likely to do what she can to stop DeLeon in the primary.  The Survey USA poll certainly shows this a very viable strategy.

Republicans desperately need a viable statewide candidate in November to bring out their voters.  If it is two Democrats running off for governor and two Democrats running off for US Senator what reason will Republicans have to turn out.  In 2016, hundreds of thousands of Republicans did not vote in the all Democratic Senate race.  If they stay home in those numbers in 2018, Republicans could easily lose half the congressional delegation and a third of their legislators to a fired up high turnout Democratic base.

That is not to say that a Republican could defeat Feinstein in November, that remains very unlikely, although who would have thought that a Democrat could win a special Senate election in Alabama in 2017.  But in the IGA poll, only 50 percent of voters approved of Feinstein’s performance in office and only 45 percent were inclined to re-elect her.  At 84, she is the oldest US Senator, and could have the same problem that forced veteran Utah GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch from running again: too old and too Washington.

But even if a Republican has only a minuscule chance of defeating Feinstein in November, still there are big advantages in having a GOP candidate on the ballot, not the least of which is saving down ballot Republicans from a massacre.  And a Republican could make a credible argument that he or she could “do more for California.”

Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Xavier Becerra are baying at the moon like chickens with their heads cut off in their resistance to the Trump Administration.  (I know this is mixed metaphors, dear reader, but that is what they are acting like.)  Brown is channeling his inner John C. Calhoun by trying to nullify Trump’s federal policies especially on climate change, but we decided the nullification issue150 years ago.  Becerra acts as though he slept through his law school class on federal supremacy with his flurry of lawsuits against Trump politics.

But a Republican Senator in Washington could actually protect the state’s interests in a way a Democrat could not.  Funny how Florida with a GOP governor and Senator got a reprieve from Trump’s off shore oil drilling plans while California did not.

This is not to say that this argument would actually get a Republican elected, but at least it is intellectually sound.  There is really no argument a Republican can make running for governor; Brown is reasonably popular and the state agrees with Democrats on state policies, as election after election has shown.

If all three serious Republicans running for governor stay in that race they will all but assure two Democrats in the November runoff.  One of them would be wise to look seriously at the US Senate race.

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