Tuesday, August 23, 2016




          The scene looked a bit peculiar as former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, a Republican, enthusiastically endorsed Democrat Loretta Sanchez for the U.S. Senate seat about to be vacated by the retiring Barbara Boxer.

          “She is tough and not afraid to take a stand on important issues,” intoned Riordan, with Sanchez beaming nearby. Riordan, often given credit for his city’s quick recovery from the race riots of 1992, had not endorsed a Democrat in years, but has nowhere else to go this fall.

          That’s because Sanchez faces state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, another Democrat, this November in California’s first one-party race for a statewide office in the modern era. None of the 11 Republicans in the June primary election even came close to making the runoff.

          Sanchez’ opportunity for an upset became even more clear at mid-summer, when polls began showing she had made a bit of progress since that primary, while Harris may actually have lost a little ground. The California Field Poll, for example, found Harris with 39 percent support to 24 percent for Sanchez. Harris actually pulled 40 percent of the June vote to about 19 percent for Sanchez.

          So Harris hasn’t been dazzling many voters since topping the primary election. It’s unclear just where the new Sanchez support came from. But the way things are going seems quite reminiscent of what happened in the primary, where Harris began with about 27 percent support when she declared her candidacy, while Sanchez never drew much more than 14 percent in any survey. But about 40 percent of the electorate was undecided until the final days before the primary, just as about 35 percent are similarly perplexed, undecided, uninterested or turned off today. One poll showed 28 percent of voters don’t plan to cast any ballot in this race.

          Many in the uncertain column are probably Republicans who would have to hold their nose to vote for either candidate.

          But in Harris, they’d get a senator with no foreign policy experience and a strong gun-control stance. Sanchez, meanwhile, is a longtime House Foreign Affairs Committee member with a firmly pro-Israel record and a far iffier record on gun-control than Harris. She does not stint, however, in supporting key Democratic stances like easing college student debt, expanding Pell Grants to students and abortion rights.

          Given the choice (and it’s the only senatorial one they’ll have this fall), many Republicans might prefer Sanchez to Harris. Some might prefer not to vote for either as a kind of protest, but the 17 statewide ballot propositions covering things from taxes to marijuana and pornography could make it difficult for them to resist casting ballots. Once they start with that, who knows what else they might do?

          For Sanchez, the current task is unprecedented. Normally, a candidate can win by breaking a few voters away from their usual home party, as a first step. The second, often easier, need is to get them to move from undecided into the candidate’s column. Republicans already are cut loose from their party in this contest, so Sanchez really has only half the task others usually face.

          She’s been able to do it with some, like syndicated talk show host Hugh Hewitt. The conservative Hewitt was not expected to back her even though he invited her onto his program. But once he listened to her for an hour or so, Hewitt tweeted his surprise endorsement of Sanchez to more than 100,000 followers. Which means Sanchez can attract some Republicans.

          If she’s able to draw a good share of the 27 percent of California voters who are registered to the GOP, there’s a possibility she could be elected by an unprecedented coalition of Latino Democrats and conservative Republicans.

          Yes, Democrat Dianne Feinstein has survived well over three terms in the Senate with a combination of liberal Democratic and moderate Republican support. No one knows for sure whether Sanchez can achieve something similar, even as Harris gets most of the conventional liberal Democratic vote.

          But Sanchez has pulled upsets before, most notably ousting the well-entrenched conservative Republican Rep. Robert Dornan from his Orange County-based House seat in 1996.

          So while Harris enters the fall with what looks like a substantial lead, movement among Republican voters could change things.


     Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. 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, go to www.californiafocus.net

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