Thursday, August 04, 2016

Race of the Day- California U.S. Senate

95 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Open
2012 Presidential Result: Blue State (West)

Outlook: Safe Democrat/Likely Harris

The Golden State is holding it's first open contest for a Senate seat in 24 years, and many people of the nation's most populous state would have liked to be a Senator, but the final contest has come down to two candidates who are far more alike on the issues, than is typically the case in general election.

That is because they are both Democrats. They are also both women, fairly close in age, and whomever wins is likely to be one of the few non-whites in the Senate. Despite some major gains by Republicans across the country in recent cycles, California is very liberal and the GOP there has found it nearly impossible to win statewide. If this were a traditional Republican vs. Democrat race, the Democrat nominee would have a distinct advantage, but for four years now, California has conducted its campaigns under the "jungle primary" system, where the top two finishers advance to a November election, regardless of party. In most races, that makes it nearly impossible for a non-major party contender to advance and in the case of this race, it has also rendered Republicans moot. This is the first Senate or Gubernatorial election, that I can think of, to feature two candidates of one political party facing off.

This seat became open when liberal Barbara Boxer announced her retirement after Senate service, after having previously serving in the House. Many Democrats were mentioned as potential successors, but the name of Kamala Harris quickly surfaced. The daughter of a mother from India and a father from Jamaica, Harris is from San Francisco and is currently serving her second term as California's Attorney General, and like Boxer, is very liberal.

Only one Democrat of any prominence would go on to seek this seat as well. That was Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, whose parents came from Mexico. Twenty years ago, she was elected to the House in a major political upset in a district in Orange County that was once heavily Republican. Her election indicated the changing demographic and political situation in California, which would greatly harm the ability of Republicans to win in the state. Sanchez had started her political career as a Republican herself, but has been very comfortable in the Democrat Party in Washington, raising much money for the party, being frequently mentioned as a future statewide contender, and having posed for some semi-risque Holiday cards. While she has been mostly liberal, she has shown a bit of an interest in working from a pro-business prospective and is definitely not as far to the left as her younger sister Linda Sanchez, who serves alongside her in the California House delegation.

From the beginning of this race, Harris had an advantage and was seen as a near sure bet to advance to November. The only question was if Sanchez would finish in second place and join her or if a Republican would garner enough votes to somehow sneak through. It was a bit of a rocky start for Sanchez who had to apologize after meeting with a group of Indian-Americans and doing a Native American war chant, in describing a previous incident in which she said she was confused between the two types of "Indians." In the past, while facing a difficult general election, Sanchez had gotten some bad headlines for accusing the Vietnamese in her district of trying to defeat her while she was facing a Vietnamese-American GOP opponent.

Several Republicans would file for this contest, but the most reasonably promising contender, State Assemblyman Rocky Chavez decided it would be smarter to seek reelection, and withdrew from the race. While some polls showed that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had enough name recognition to have a chance for Republicans, she never showed any interest in seeking the office.

In the early June primary, the top performing Republican vote-getter was former State Party Chairman Duf Sundheim, who had several party establishment endorsements. Three other Republicans trailed immediately behind in the crowded jungle landscape, but Sundheim was not even able to capture eight percent of the vote and the total percentage for the major Republicans in the field, was just about 20 percent. Harris and Sanchez easily advanced, with 59 percent of the vote combined, but Harris was in first place by over a million and a half votes, making her the clear frontrunner for November.

This was a very bad, if not unexpected results for Republicans, and even though they represent only about a quarter of the electorate in the field (many other Republicans voted strategically for Sanchez), a lot of people in the state feel like they are now left without an acceptable option. They may feel that way about the Presidential race as well, but this may even be worse in some regards.

What should California Republicans do at this point? Maybe they can write in Sundheim, and pretend that the old system and the one that exists in almost every other state is in play, or they can see if they can bring themselves to support the "lesser of two evils" among two Democrats. Sanchez has tried to make some limited appeals to conservative voters, and she clearly is not as far to the left as Harris, but its a tricky proposition for her to try to build a coalition of Republicans and Latinos, where there is a lot of ideological tension present. A former Republican Congressional colleague has recently endorsed Sanchez.

Many moderates and conservatives will ultimately vote for Sanchez, and as the first Hispanic quasi-nominee for Senate in California, she can count on a lot of those votes too. Still though, it likely will not be all that close, as white liberals are likely to join African-Americans and Asian-Americans in backing Harris. The Attorney General is clearly the choice of the party establishment and has recently been endorsed by Barack Obama himself. This did not please Sanchez, who as no stranger to controversial rhetoric related to race and politics, said Obama did it because both he and Harris are black.

Something major would have to happen in this race to stop Harris from winning solidly. It is virtually a Democrat primary race, with GOP voters holding a significant amount of influence if they wanted it. A lot of Republicans though may just skip this ballot line altogether or stay home, and both the Presidential race and this contest could have bad ramifications for the GOP further down ballot.

Kamala Harris is poised to become just the second black woman ever in the Senate and will be talked about as a rising star in the party.

Senate races predicted thus far: 1 D (1 Safe), 4 R (2 Safe, 1 Likely, 1 Leans)
Overall predicted thus far: 37 D, 34 R


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