California’s U.S. Senate Seats in Spotlight

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Chatter around political circles last week frequently focused on California politicians who were not even on Tuesday’s ballot. Would U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer, 74 tomorrow, and Dianne Feinstein, 81, run for re-election? The speculation was enhanced after the USC Dornsife College/Los Angeles Times poll released over the weekend showed that a majority of Californians would like to see new candidates run for those senatorial chairs.

Mind you, the question did not mention the senators by name – only if it would be a good idea to replace senators who served 22 years in that one office. Sixty percent of the voters said it would be a good idea if new candidates were elected.

California made history in 1992 electing two women to the U.S. Senate. The satirical musical group Capitol Steps celebrated the event at the time with one of their spoof songs applying recognized tunes to new lyrics, in this case using a Beach Boys’ classic when they sang about the senate: “I wish they all could be California girls.”

On a post-election panel I participated in last week, fellow panelist Rose Kapolczynski, Boxer’s political consultant, was asked if Boxer was running in 2016 since she had raised little money. She said the fundraising total indicated nothing and noted that the Republicans have no bench to challenge Boxer.

Senator Boxer might look at how Jerry Brown conducted his re-election campaign against Neel Kashkari, a candidate with little name ID. Boxer could decide a similar model would work for her.

The question on the USC/Times poll does not indicate that Boxer or Feinstein would have difficulty if they chose to run for-election. Dan Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll and executive director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at USC said, “Both Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer can get re-elected in California for as long as they want.”

Schnur argued that no Republican would beat them. Indeed, the poll only tested support for what it called “an emerging generation of Democratic leaders” including Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Kamala Harris, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and his successor, Eric Garcetti.

I asked Schnur why no Republican names were tested. He responded that the pollsters did not think there was a likely Republican future statewide candidate besides those who had just run for office. I can think of a few, Congress Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, former U. S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. Schnur said Republicans would be tested in a poll closer to 2016.

If Republicans are not in position to challenge California’s senators, what about an intraparty challenge? The Top Two primary would allow two well-known Democrats to face off in the general election. The USC/Times poll indicates there is room for such a challenge.

Schnur thinks it would be a foolish move.

He may be right. While younger people in the poll seemed to want new candidates to seek the office, the California electorate just opted to return Jerry Brown, 76, to the governor’s chair. Age has not been an impediment for many California politicians.

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