By Tom Elias
Pity the poor California Republican Party. While its national brethren control both houses of Congress and the White House and might as well control the U.S. Supreme Court, chances are no California Republican will even make next November’s ballot in either of the top-of-ticket races whose outcome will be known about one year from today.
It’s quite the opposite for California Democrats, who exert even more control here than Republicans do in Washington, D.C. While it looks like the next year will be dreary for the state GOP, trying desperately to hold onto the meager 14 California congressional seats it now holds, multiple Democrats lead all polls and fundraising in the race to become California’s next governor – perhaps the second most powerful job in America. So far, only Democrats are among major prospects to oppose longtime California Democratic grandee Dianne Feinstein for the Senate seat she’s long held in what promises to become a classic intraparty spat.
Even in down-the-ticket races, it’s similar. Example: It now looks like the November runoff for attorney general will match the appointed incumbent Xavier Becerra and current state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, who did not flinch or drop out when Gov. Jerry Brown last year named veteran Congressman Becerra to replace new Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris.
No significant Republican candidate has yet risen for any statewide office except governor, where Orange County Assemblyman Travis Allen and Republican businessman John Cox both hope ballot initiative fights can propel them to the ballot.
Allen seeks to ride a tide he believes will lead to repeal of the state’s new environmentally-motivated gasoline tax increase, while Cox is again pushing a measure that would expand the Legislature a thousand-fold.
No one knows yet if either putative proposition will draw the fervent support these men hope for, but others have ridden initiatives into office, an example being ex-Gov. Pete Wilson, who attached himself to the 1994 Proposition 187, which aimed to take almost all privileges away from undocumented immigrants, including emergency room service and public schooling. Most of its provisions were later tossed out by federal courts, but the vast majority of the 65 percent of Californians who backed 187 also voted for Wilson as he beat former state Treasurer Kathleen Brown, sister of the current governor.
Because both Allen and Cox have polled in the vicinity of 8 percent in every major survey, if Republicans want a spot on the gubernatorial runoff ballot, they will likely need to convince one or the other to bow out. Things could get even tougher for them if Chad Mayes, the former leader of GOP members of the state Assembly, makes good on a hint he will also run.
In the land of political egos, though, it can be difficult to get determined candidates to quit a race merely out of party loyalty. Meanwhile, both leading Democrats in the race, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and ex-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, poll at least as much as Cox and Allen together. In the land of Top Two primaries, that almost guarantees an all-Democrat race even if one Republican drops out.
Over on the Senate side, only Democrats so far have mounted anything like credible early campaigns against Feinstein. There is as yet no public polling on this race, but no Republican figure with name recognition akin to what Kevin de Leon acquired during three years leading the state Senate has entered the race. Meanwhile, Democratic billionaire Tom Steyer, mulling a Senate run, can write himself a check for however much he wants or needs.
It’s true that largely self-funded candidates aside from muscleman movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger have not had much luck seeking California office. The defeated include former Northwest Airlines chief Al (Checkbook) Checchi, financier William Simon, Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman and shipping heir William Matson Roth.
Unlike them, Steyer, with the large mailing list of his NextGen environmental organization readily at hand, would have no trouble raising significant money from others.
Put it all together, and it looks like many California Republicans will be mostly occupied in the next year staving off congressional challenges fueled by massive California hostility toward President Trump and anyone backing his agenda.
This should keep the races for top offices largely in the hands of Democrats, who could have major intra-party warfare.