Monday, April 25, 2016




          In more than a year since state Attorney General Kamala Harris declared she’s running for the Senate seat soon to be vacated by retiring Democrat Barbara Boxer, Harris’ poll numbers have not changed much.

She pulled about 31 percent in the first public poll on the contest; she got 27 percent and 33 per cent in the two latest surveys, leaving her still the clear leader less than two months before the June 7 primary election.

          So far, no one has laid a glove on her, but her numbers are static.

          And very few seem to care. The latest California Field Poll found fully 48 percent of likely voters undecided in this contest as of early April. So most were not interested, many unaware there’s even a Senate contest underway.

          “Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have sucked all the air out of the room,” opined Democratic Orange County Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez the other day, referring to the presidential nominating races on the same June ballot.

          Sanchez polls second in the race, at 15 percent in early April, up from about 8 percent a year ago. Three Republicans in the race, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ron Unz and former state GOP chairmen Tom Del Beccaro and Geoge (Duf) Sundheim, had a combined 11 percent, splintered three ways.

          If the undecideds eventually break in the same proportion as those who have already made up their minds, the November runoff contest will feature two Democrats and no Republicans, under the top two primary system that puts the two leading June vote-getters into a November faceoff.

          But this so-far-sleepy race will soon become more heated. Harris has taken criticism in the last two weeks for having her office represent Gov. Jerry Brown in his effort to keep secret more than 65 emails between him or his staff and the state Public Utilities Commission from 2013 and 2014, when the PUC was deciding who would pay for blunders and disasters at Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Southern California Edison Co. that saw the 2012 closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and the deadly 2010 San Bruno natural gas explosion.

          Consumer groups claim it’s a conflict of interest for Harris to represent Brown when he or his chief of staff, former PG&E lobbyist Nancy McFadden, might become witnesses in Harris’ ongoing criminal investigation of apparent PUC collusion with the big utilities.

          Outside ethics experts agree it’s a conflict, and you can bet Sanchez will hit Harris on it soon. Harris refused to comment, but her office released a statement claiming there’s an “ethical firewall” between lawyers investigating the PUC and those representing Brown.

          Sanchez, meanwhile, will take fire in this mostly liberal state for voting to give gun makers immunity from lawsuits when their products are used in crimes.

          But Sanchez is not shy about answering her critics. To those who blasted her for saying between 5 percent and 20 percent of Muslims would like to see a world-wide caliphate a la the terrorist Islamic State, she says, “Those are the numbers. No experts give a number under 20 percent. I’ve spent 20 years on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and visited many foreign Muslim leaders and they say it’s a huge worry for them. I was just at West Point and they talked about this. It’s in congressional testimony.”

          But Sanchez says she, like many voters, knows little about the three Republicans in the race. “I don’t know them and the voters don’t, either,” she said. So she believes she will survive past June and move on to a hot challenge of Harris and the Democratic Party establishment in the fall.

          “I think the San Francisco Democratic Party establishment clearly told people other than the San Franciscan to stay out,” she said, referring to Harris. That city’s establishment has dominated California politics in recent years, giving the state leaders like Brown, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Sens. Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and Harris, a former San Francisco district attorney.

          Meanwhile, the three Republicans each hope to make it past June, but none has nearly as much campaign cash as either Harris or Sanchez.

          It adds up to a potentially fascinating race, and one sure to become fiery as mail balloting begins in mid-May.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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