The sad plight of California’s GOP: bankrupt of candidates in statewide races
"Can it get any lower for Republicans at the statewide level?"
By: John Diaz, San Francisco Chronicle
Near the end of Tuesday’s climactic gubernatorial debate in San Jose, moderator Chuck Todd of NBC News asked the candidates whether they would prefer the general election be Democrat versus Democrat, Republican versus Republican or a more conventional blue-red race.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom was first and most emphatic.
“You know my position, Chuck,” Newsom said, to laughter and applause. “A Republican would be ideal.”
He looked over at the two Republicans on the stage, who had just spent the past 90 minutes doing their best to out-Trump one another in policy and bombast. “Either one of these will do.”
It’s a measure of the straits of a state party that produced two U.S. presidents in the last half century — Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan — that the notion of it even having a nominee for governor would be uncertain, let alone a laugh line or a Democratic candidate’s dream. Yet that’s where it stands in 2018, when only 1 in 4 California voters is a registered Republican.
It was hard to look across the California Theatre stage in San Jose and not conclude that John Cox and Travis Allen were shredding any chance of prevailing in a general election in a state that has not elected any Republican to statewide office in a dozen years. Not only were they trolling each other, they were doing just about everything the polls suggest would turn off Californians. Allen, a state assemblyman from Orange County, underscored his support for Donald Trump in 2016. Cox, a businessman from San Diego County, conceded his regret for not having backed Trump (he voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson), thinking Trump might not be a true conservative.
Just a reminder to the two: Hillary Clinton carried the state with 61.7 percent of the vote, and there is no discernible evidence of voter remorse at this point.
It gets crazier. Cox is the definition of both a perennial candidate and a carpetbagger, having run and lost elections in Illinois for the U.S. House and U.S. Senate (twice), and he even ran a quixotic campaign for president in 2008 on a pledge to abolish the Internal Revenue Service. He sometimes winces when asked about his wacky idea to create a 12,000-member citizen legislature (“You had to bring that up,” he said when questioned at our editorial board meeting with him). But when I asked him about the green wristband he was wearing — you guessed it — it was for that very proposal.
If anything, Allen is even more over-the-top. He wants to arrest almost every prominent California Democrat in sight (Gov. Jerry Brown, Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf are among his targets) for standing up for sanctuary city policies that shield undocumented immigrants. He scoffs at the scientific consensus on climate change and vows that Californians could again enjoy green lawns and long showers when he is elected. He opposes full-day kindergarten, in part to keep children from being “indoctrinated” by liberal curricula.
It gets worse for Republicans. At least Cox and Allen have a chance of extending their campaigns under California’s “jungle primary” system, in which the top two finishers advance to the general election regardless of party affiliation.
The U.S. Senate race was widely expected to go down to a November contest between incumbent Dianne Feinstein and a fellow Democrat, former state Senate leader Kevin de León. Then out of nowhere a 33-year-old Republican from Albany, Patrick Little, showed up in second place last month in a Survey USA poll. Little’s white supremacist views are so toxic that he was kicked out of the party’s recent state convention in San Diego. The Holocaust denier was evicted by security as he was kicking and spitting on an Israeli flag.
“It’s appalling,” GOP state party chair Jim Brulte told reporters in San Diego. “We denounced him as harshly as we could.”
You know the situation is dire when the party brass is hoping its most promising candidate in a high-profile race does not reach the November ballot.
If there is one race where Republicans think they should always be competitive, it is attorney general, where law-and-order themes tend to appeal across party lines. Remember, even in a Democratic sweep of statewide offices in 2010, Kamala Harris was only able to edge Republican Steve Cooley by less than a percentage point. For those elected, this is also a prime perch for a run to higher office, as Harris showed.
This time around, incumbent Becerra and challenger Dave Jones, the current insurance commissioner, appear to have a lock on November against two underfunded and largely unknown Republicans. The GOP candidate presumed to have the best chance, retired Judge Steven Bailey of El Dorado County, was recently hit with 11 counts of judicial misconduct by the Commission on Judicial Performance and went into this month with barely more than $13,000 in the bank for a statewide race.
Can it get any lower for Republicans at the statewide level? Unfortunately, yes. They do not have a single candidate on the ballot for state insurance commissioner, where the battle will be between Ricardo Lara, a Democratic state senator, and Steve Poizner, a former commissioner and former Republican who is running as an independent.
The bleak outlook at the top of the statewide ticket could have significant implications for the down-ballot races, most notably for the U.S. House, where Democrats are targeting seven seats now held by Republicans in districts carried by Clinton in 2016.
In an interview with The Chronicle on Thursday, Allen said he would gladly invite Trump to campaign for him in California this fall.
One can only anticipate the reaction from Republicans running for office throughout the state. “Please. No. It’s tough enough already.”