The Other Big 2016 California Primary: U.S. Senate

by on April 22, 2016 · 3 comments

in California, Election, Politics

california map flagBy Doug Porter

California’s primary counts this year. While media coverage of presidential candidates wooing voters in the Golden State is steadily increasing, another primary contest with national implications is flying under the radar.

Sen. Barbara Boxer’s retirement creates the first open U.S. Senate seat in California in more than two decades. Based on the activity level of Sen. Dianne Feinstein recently, it could be a while until the next opportunity presents itself.

It turns out the Presidential contest is so unstable at this point it’s left to curious voters to go online for information. There are 39 candidates from 6 political parties running for President. I’ll write about some of them in future columns.

The Official Voter Information Guide for the California Presidential Primary landed in my mailbox yesterday, and it’s got nothing on the various partisan contests for the top job in the nation. The guide does contain information about Proposition 50 and, again, I’ll get around to this soon.

The sole statewide contest for elected federal office covered in the voter guide is to determine the successor for retiring US Senator Barbara Boxer. There are 34 candidates vying for this seat: 12 Republicans, 11 No Party Preference, 7 Democrats, 2 Libertarian and 1 Green Party.

From Ballotpedia:

The candidates are as follows: President Cristina Grappo (D),Kamala Harris (D), Massie Munroe (D), Herbert Peters (D),Emory Rodgers (D), Loretta Sanchez (D), Steve Stokes (D),Greg Conlon (R), Tom Del Beccaro (R), Von Hougo (R), Don Krampe (R), Jerry Laws (R), Tom Palzer (R), Karen Roseberry(R), Duf Sundheim (R), Ron Unz (R), Jarrell Williamson (R),Phil Wyman (R), George Yang (R), Pamela Elizondo (G),Mark Matthew Herd (L), Gail Lightfoot (L), John Thompson Parker (Peace and Freedom), Mike Beitiks (I), Eleanor Garcia (I), Tim Gildersleeve (I), Clive Grey (I), Don Grundmann (I), Jason Hanania (I), Jason Kraus (I), Paul Merritt (I), Gar Myers (I), Ling Ling Shi (I), and Scott Vineberg (I).

The top two vote-getters in the June 7th primary will advance to the November general election.

Upcoming Debate

The top five candidates in the polls are scheduled to participate in a debate at the University of the Pacific in Stockton to be broadcast on Monday, April 25 at 6pm. These five– Loretta Sanchez, Kamala Harris, Tom Del Beccaro, Duf Sundheim, and Ron Unz –are the candidates I’ll be writing about today.

You can catch the debate on these channels: KCRA Sacramento, KNTV San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose, KSBW Salinas/Monterey, KGTV San Diego, KCOP Los Angeles


logo-vote-caDates to Remember

May 9, 2016 – First day to vote-by-mail

May 23, 2016 – Last day to register to vote (Or change your party affiliation)

May 31, 2016 – Last day to apply for a vote-by-mail ballot by mail

June 7, 2016 – Election Day (Polls are open 7am – 8pm)


The Democrats

There is a better-than-even chance that the top two candidates in this election will both be Democrats: Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez and State Attorney General Kamala Harris.

An Outspoken Blue Dog

loretta sanchezRepresenting a district in Orange County, Loretta Sanchez is a center-right Democrat, having been a member of the House Blue Dog Coalition. The conservative-leaning group, heavily funded by the health care industry, has lost most of its Congressional membership over the past three elections.

Sanchez belonged to the United Food and Commercial Workers when she worked as an ice cream server in high school, and received a union scholarship to college.

Ethnic issues, good and bad, have followed Congresswoman Sanchez’s career. As the proud daughter of immigrant parents who grew up in a Spanish-speaking household, she’s been held up as role model for up and coming Latinas. Controversies over comments referencing Native Americans and Muslims have largely blown over following walk-backs or clarifications.

From McClatchy News Service:

“Loretta Sanchez tends to say what’s on her mind – sometimes that’s helpful to her, sometimes not,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. “That penchant tends to obscure her more substantive work in Congress.”

Sanchez, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, is a national leader on issues of military sexual assault and expanding women’s combat roles. She’s a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee and the Homeland Security Committee.

Sanchez also is well regarded in Orange County for steering federal dollars back to her district. She’s considered a friend to business.

Local endorsers for Ms Sanchez’ campaign include Representatives Susan Davis and Juan Vargas.

Here’s some additional insight, from New York Magazine:

In California, a host of Democratic and Republican candidates will compete in the state’s nonpartisan top-two primary on June 7 to succeed Democratic senator Barbara Boxer.

Thanks to an obscure group of GOP candidates and the state’s partisan leanings, there’s a very high probability that two Democrats, Attorney General Kamala Harris and Representative Loretta Sanchez, will make the general-election ballot, where Republicans will then play a potentially crucial role in electing their favorite from the opposition ranks. The scuttlebutt at present suggests the conspicuously centrist Sanchez could get enough business and Republican support to supplement her regional (Los Angeles) and ethnic (Latino) appeal and overwhelm the African-American progressive favorite Harris, who is from San Francisco.

A California Establishmentarian

Kamala_Harris_Official_Attorney_General_PhotoKamala Harris is the first female, the first African-American,and the first Asian-American Attorney General in California. She’s played her political cards right with the Democratic Party in the state, winning a February endorsement with 78% of the vote, 18 points higher than the 60% needed.

From a profile at Southern California Public Radio:

Harris’ father is from Jamaica and taught economics at Stanford University. Her mother was an endocrinologist and breast cancer researcher from India.

“My sister Maya and I, we joke that we grew up surrounded by a bunch of adults who spent full time marching and shouting for this thing called justice,” Harris said.

She has described her influences as the icons of the civil rights movement: Thurgood Marshall, Charles Hamilton Houston and Constance Baker Motley. They were all lawyers, with Marshall eventually becoming a U.S. Supreme Court justice. Harris said their heroism inspired her to study law. After attending Howard University, she went to UC Hastings College of the Law. But when she chose to be a prosecutor, she told journalist Katie Couric she had to defend her decision to her family as she would a college thesis.

She’s obviously considered an up and coming politico, having been mentioned in speculation about replacing US Attorney General Eric Holder and as a potential Supreme Court nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia.

Harris was a the front-runner from the day she announced her candidacy for US Senate. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, once considered a likely rival, opted to run for Governor.

Despite raising gobs of money, her polling numbers remain unchanged from the time she announced her candidacy. While she leads Sanchez in surveys, the largest block of voters remain undecided.

Harris has come under fire recently from consumer advocates who believe the Attorney General to be dragging her feet on an investigation into Southern California Edison and the Public Utilities Commission’s deals with regard to the shuttered San Onofre Nuclear plant. The operating theory among her critics is that she’s protecting Gov. Jerry Brown and other state officials.

And the right wing anti-abortion types are trying to make a big fuss over search warrants executed as part of the investigation into the fraudulent videos circulated as part of an attack on Planned Parenthood. The big money on the right, namely the Koch brothers donor network, is seething over her ongoing probe of dark money flowing into California politics.

The Republicans

The top two Republican candidates are Attorney/Columnist Tom Del Beccaro and Attorney/Mediator Duf Sundheim. Both are past Chairmen of the California GOP. Activist Ron Unz has been mounting a come-from-behind campaign strong enough to get him invited to the upcoming debate.

Breaking Up is Easy to Do

Del Beccaro with birther Orly Taitz

Del Beccaro with birther Orly Taitz

Tom Del Beccaro specializes in the breakups of business partnerships with his legal practice. Obviously, he’s pretty good at it because during his tenure as party leader (2011-2013) the California GOP all-but-shattered. Republicans lost elections for every statewide office and Democrats won a two-thirds supermajority in both houses of the Legislature for the first time in more than a century.

Del Beccaro has been endorsed by former Reagan economic adviser Art Laffer, and advocates for a 6% flat tax for California and a 15.5% federal flat tax for individuals and businesses. He was also endorsed by California State Senator Joel Anderson (38th District).

He gets lots of play in the conservative press as a prognosticator. here’s one of his predictions from Forbes:

We are arguably headed for difficult economic times given ObamaCare’s looming implementation, proposed tax increases, and ever more in the way of regulations. Congressional Republicans should pick out significant government programs that are not working. Obviously, that will be incredibly easy. Then they should lay out specific cost savings from those failed programs. For the next two years, the Republicans should hold a monthly press conference on the Capitol steps wherein they explain:

  • The original purpose of the Non-working Program
  • Who was originally supposed to have benefited from the Non-working Program
  • The GOP’s Reformed Program
  • Why the Reformed Program is better for the Nation
  • How much the Reformed Program will save taxpayers

We’re still waiting….

Huh, What?

duf sundheimDuf Sundheim qualifies as a “reasonable Republican” these days.

From Wikipedia:

In 2005, Sundheim was the first Chairman in the history of the CAGOP to be re-elected and he was re-elected by acclamation. In 2006 under his leadership, the GOP set modern day records for the percentage of African American, Latinos, women and Asian-Americans voting for a Republican running for statewide office. He served on the RNC Executive Committee from 2006-2007. During his tenure as Chairman, Sundheim raised over $100 million (an all-time record).

All of that party building effort is long gone. The ‘base’ of the party hates him.

Consider these ‘shocking’ revelations from the rightward leaning Washington Examiner:

Sundheim supports the popular components of ObamaCare, such as forcing insurers to provide coverage to Americans with pre-existing medical conditions, but otherwise thinks the law is a boondoggle that needs major surgery…

…He backs an immigration overhaul that includes a path to legal status for illegal immigrants but opposes Obama’s executive action. Despite Sundheim’s being pro-choice on abortion, favoring legal gay marriage and granting illegal immigrants a path to legal status, political analysts here say the GOP’s national image is still likely to weigh him down in a race for federal office.

Sundheim has the endorsements of mega-donor Charles Munger, Jr and Congressman Darrell Issa.

Ron Who?

run unzI had to look Ron Unz up on The Google, having missed the 1990s in California.

His 1994 campaign for Governer against Pete Wilson was referred to in the press as the “Revenge of the Nerds.” He lost by a two-to-one margin.

Unz’ triumph in California politics came with the unlikely (and successful) initiative campaign to essentially eliminate bi-lingual education. With a staff of two people and $700,000 of his own money Proposition 227 passed in June 1998, supported by 61% of voters.

Not too long ago he made waves as a Republican who supported an incremental increase to the minimum wage.

His campaign for US Senate, according to the Sacramento Bee, “is to help raise awareness about a fall ballot measure that would largely overturn his voter-approved Proposition 227, the 1998 initiative requiring schools to teach in English.” And, surprise, surprise, he’s courting the Trump vote.

From his campaign announcement:

An important factor in my decision-making was the strong likelihood that Donald Trump would be the Republican presidential nominee. He and his campaign would almost certainly support keeping English in the public schools, but for obvious reasons he would hardly be the best political figure to be strongly identified with the No campaign. However, if I were a statewide candidate myself, heavily focusing on that issue, my standing as the original author of Prop. 227 would give me an excellent chance of establishing myself as the main voice behind the anti-repeal campaign.

In a recent Field Poll, Unz is besting his Republican competition with support from 5% of those surveyed, compared to Beccaro (4%) and Sundheim (2%).


This is an excerpt of Doug Porter’s column at our associated San Diego Free Press.


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Richard Winger April 22, 2016 at 2:20 pm

This race, which has attracted so little public attention so far, is somewhat similar to the California 2014 gubernatorial race, which also attracted little public interest. Voter turnout in California in November 2014, compared to our turnout in November 10, dropped more than the turnout rate of any other state. The November 2014 turnout in California was only two-thirds the turnout of November 2010. The culprit, which this article ought to discuss, is our top-two election system, which went into effect in 2011.

In effect, our June event is not a primary at all; it is a hurdle for candidates who want to get on the November ballot. Our system says unless a candidate is one of the two most popular candidates as of June, then he or she can’t run in November. As the article says, this will probably be mean that the only candidate allowed in November 2016 for US Senate are two Democrats. The law forbids write-ins in November for Congress and state office. The system severely restricts voter choice in November and leads to an unfocused primary. The old system made far more sense. The old system let each party choose its best nominee in June, and then all parties had someone in November.


RB April 23, 2016 at 2:05 pm

The old system promoted one extreme candidate on the left and one extreme candidate on the right and no moderates or independents. It is hoped that this system will reward candidates who are closer to the majority in the middle and to the views of independents. I would much rather vote for a moderate Democrat that can win rather than a Republican that can’t win, in this one party state.


Richard Winger April 25, 2016 at 9:38 am

Political science evidence rebuts the idea that the old system promoted extreme candidates. See the 2013 paper in American Journal of Political Science by political scientists Eric McGhee, Seth Masket, Boris Shor, Steven Rogers, and Nolan McCarty. It depended on hundreds of thousands of bits of data (legislator voting records and questionaire responses) and found no correlation between type of primary system and whether extreme major party candidates get nominated or elected.

Under California’s closed primary system (1913-1996) and under our semi-closed system (2001-2010) California had moderate Governors and Senators.


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