Is a GOP Upset Possible in California? by Gregory Hilton

California was a reliably Republican state in presidential politics from World War II through the 1980s, but now it is solidly in Blue America. Democrats have a 1.5 million advantage in voter registration. It has been a long time since a Reagan-style conservative has won statewide, and in presidential terms the GOP has written off California since 1992. Sen. John McCain received 37% of the vote in 2008 and George W. Bush’s total was 45% in 2004 and 42% in 2000. Sen. Bob Dole received 38% in 1996 and George H.W. Bush got 33% in 1992. Bush did defeat Michael Dukakis in California in 1988.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D) continues to hold the lead n her re-election race, but many factors indicate she may be vulnerable this year. The intensity of the primary campaign to secure the GOP Senate nomination also demonstrates usual enthusiasm to challenge her.
Boxer is one of the most liberal members of the Senate, and advocated a withdrawal from Iraq in 2005. She also joined Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) in backing a resolution to censure President George W. Bush.
The first GOP primary debate was held on Friday night, and the spotlight was on the two front runner’s. Former Rep. Tom Campbell had the most polished debating style while this was former Hewlett-Packard (HP) CEO Carly Fiorina first political debate.
Campbell is a former State Senator, sered nine years in the U.S. House and was the Budget Director for Gov. Schwarzenegger. Fiorina portrays herself as a successful business leader but HP stock fell 50% during her tenure, and she received a $21 million golden parachute when she was fired in 2005.
GOP Senators Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and John McCain and Jon Kyl of Arizona have all endorsed Fiorina, but this came before Campbell entered the primary. She contributed $2.5 million to her campaign but has also made rookie mistakes such as suggesting California file for bankruptcy which is not legally possible. Fiorina’s credibility was further damaged when it was revealed she had voted only six times in her adult life.
Campbell is in the mold of GOP Governors Pete Wilson, George Deukmejian and Arnold Schwarzenegger. He is moderate on social issues (he supports abortion rights and same-sex marriage), but a fiscal conservative. This has been a winning formula for the California GOP in the past two decades.
The third candidate in the primary is Assemblyman Chuck DeVore but he is running well behind and has been largely ignored by the front runners. DeVore has been in the race for over a year but has not been able to raise significant money.
His cash of hand as of last month was a dismal $142,000. DeVore has a conservative voting record in Sacramento but he also has a libertarian outlook. DeVore and Senator Boxer are both in opposition to President Obama’s troop surge in Afghanistan, and the Orange County Assemblyman has frequently attacked George W. Bush rather than Boxer. DeVore is firmly against Bush’s 2008 bank bailout legislation even though 82% of the money has been repaid with interest and it is difficult to think how our banking system would have survived without the Bush initiative.
The biggest boost to DeVore’s campaign was winning the endorsement of the California Republican Assembly, but some of his remarks to the group were unusual. He attacked Fiorina because she had been a top adviser to McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, and said she was a supporter of the Bush “Wall Street bailout.” DeVore has been endorsed by Sen. Jim DeMint (SC).
All of the Republicans are running surprisingly well against Boxer, despite the fact they are largely unknown. Campbell switched from the Governor’s race to the Senate contest on January 14th, and the primary is on June 5th. The former Congressman has dominated the campaign since then, and came out swinging Friday night.
He said the “whispering campaign, that silent slander stops today.” He was talking about Fiorina’s charge he was anti-Israel. According to the Los Angeles Times:
“Campbell reiterated his support for Israel, noting that he consistently supported military aid to the nation and flew to Israel as Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was launching Scud missiles at the country during the first Gulf War. He defended a vote against Jerusalem being the nation’s undivided capital, insisting it was part of a Democratic political maneuver to embarrass then-President George H.W. Bush. . .
“Fiorina also had to explain her record, specifically the actions of a Hewlett-Packard subsidiary that sold printers to Iran, which is subject to a trade embargo. . . DeVore and Fiorina continued to criticize Campbell’s ties to individuals who donated to a past campaign and, years later, pleaded guilty to or were accused of crimes. The most notable is Sami Al-Arian, a professor who received Campbell’s support when the University of South Florida tried to fire him for expressing unpopular views. DeVore called Campbell ‘a friend to our enemies.’
“‘I certainly wish that I had done a better job of finding out who he was at the time,’ Campbell said. ‘I do not think that I deserve the kind of attack, however, that has been launched, that somehow I am a jihadist. That is absurd.”
Fiorina claims Campbell voted to “cut aid to Israel.” He voted against increasing all foreign aid. He supported the full appropriation for Israel but he objected to an increase which was to be taken from funds set aside for the world’s neediest countries. There is also merit to his idea of having Jerusalem as a shared capital.
As far as the campaign contribution from Sami Al-Arian, Campbell said he knew nothing about his terrorist ties. The LA Times recently said:
“Is Campbell’s explanation credible? His opponents think not, but we’re inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. He was naive, perhaps, and gullible; he certainly shouldn’t have written the letter before gathering the facts. But we find it hard to believe he is a ‘friend to our foes’ who knowingly supported an Islamic Jihad operative.
This is an important subject, and no doubt more will come out in the days ahead. To those who are concerned we say: Ask him. Challenge him. His positions are fair game. So is his judgment. But let’s not allow innuendo, hyperbole and cheap politics to drown out reasonable debate. . . We abhor terrorism and don’t want our leaders palling around with those who engage in it. But we are also convinced that it is possible to criticize Israel without being anti-Zionist. We don’t believe that public officials must be rigidly loyal to a single playbook of ‘pro-Israel’ positions.”
California Republicans have nominated many admirable conservatives over the past two decades, but they lost in a landslide. Senator Boxer won her last campaign by 20 points over conservative Secretary of State Bill Jones, and at the same time, Gov. Gray Davis (D) was being re-elected by 19 points over conservative Attorney General Dan Lungren. Every Republican in recent years who has run statewide as a conservative has lost by double digits.
In scoring the debate, Joe Mathews of the New America Foundation said “To his credit, Campbell was clear and rational, and terrific at making Fiorina sound bad by asking pointed questions. But he seems entirely too reasonable to convince today’s Republican voters to cast their ballots for him.”
Survey data demonstrates nearly three-quarters of the electorate are “yellow-dog” partisans who always vote their parties. The other 25 percent are true independents. They include small numbers of people registered in both parties and the roughly 20 percent who aren’t registered with any party. This year Republicans are once again polling well with independents, and Sen. Boxer could have a hard time reaching moderates in the Fall.

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