California Senator Barbara Boxer’s decision to surrender her Senate seat has sent Democrats in the Golden State scrambling. Between figures like Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and state Attorney General Kamala Harris, the president’s party does not lack for recruiting targets. But who does the GOP have that might be able to win a statewide race in California?
Conservative activists tempted to look to California’s Republican House delegation for talent will be disappointed to learn that almost none of them are likely to be able to win statewide. Those Republicans who can win a statewide race, either due to their high rates of name recognition or the fact that they achieved this feat in the past, may not be interested.
There are plenty of Republicans who have recently run for statewide office in California and lost. Neel Kashkari, a young and capable businessman, just lost a gubernatorial bid to Jerry Brown by 20 points in November. Kashkari followed in former Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman’s footsteps; she also ran a failed gubernatorial bid against Brown. Businesswoman Carly Fiorina, who challenged Boxer in 2010, now lives in Virginia and is contemplating a presidential bid.
So, who can the GOP get to serve as a standard-bearer?
“She is the dream candidate for Republicans,” Kurt Bardella, a GOP consultant familiar with the political landscape of the largest state in the Union, recently told The Daily Caller, “someone who is one of the most accomplished women in the history of our country.”
Who is he talking about? Stanford University professor and former Bush administration Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
“She would have access to significant financial resources, high name ID and would be a phenomenal candidate,” Bardella of Endeavor Strategic Communications said. “However, even in the best of circumstances with the best candidate possible, it is still an uphill climb for Republicans and it’s highly doubtful that Rice would be willing and eager to join this CA adventure.”
Despite her aptitude, experience, and temperamental similarities with the state’s moderate electorate, Rice is unlikely to run. She has routinely made it clear that she has no intention to pursue political office, and is no fan of the process of campaigning. Besides, her ultimate reward for running a successful campaign for U.S. Senate would be a seat in the U.S. Senate – an increasingly dubious honor, at least according to those who presently occupy one.
What about the “Governator?” Might Arnold Schwarzenegger be persuaded to give up on his nascent return to acting in order to jump back into the political ring for the GOP? Nope.
“The former California governor who is returning to his roots in the upcoming ‘Terminator’ film won’t be dipping his toe back into politics,” A Wall Street Journal report read. “A spokesman for the 67-year-old actor said Mr. Schwarzenegger isn’t considering a Senate run.”
The Journal also notes that House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) might be tempted to give up his position in the House to run for statewide office, and he could perhaps have more statewide appeal than, say, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), despite is legacy name. There is, however, another Republican who won a statewide race in California in living memory that few are talking about.
To my fellow hacks in DC: Arnold is not only GOP pol to win statewide here in forevs. Poizner did it too in 06. I wouldn't count him out yet
— Seema Mehta (@LATSeema) January 9, 2015
That’s right: Former California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner. Who? Well, you might have never heard of him, but Golden State residents who recall the deadly spate of Southern California wildfires in 2007, a crisis he successfully defused, certainly do. What’s more, he has some claim to bona fides in the arena of international affairs. In 2009, Poizner spearheaded an initiative aimed at forcing California’s businesses to divest from Iran.
“The regime in Iran is attempting to dominate the region and is a huge national security threat to this country,” Poizner said in 2009. “It is very important for anyone in a position like I am to look for a way to put maximum financial pressure on Iran.”
He failed to get the GOP gubernatorial nod in 2010, but he might have more luck this time around.
It is hard to say that the Republicans in California have much of a farm team to draw from ahead of the 2016 Senate race. This is a consequence of having been decimated in the state legislative level for so many years. Those few prospective candidates the party believes can win a statewide race are going to be the subject of aggressive recruiting efforts in the coming weeks.