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Not So Fast, Kamala Harris

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Not So Fast, Kamala Harris

Once thought a shoo-in to be California’s next senator, the rising Democratic star might be in for a surprise in November. May 16, 2016
California
Politics and law

In the wacky world of California politics, it’s a virtual certainty that no Republican will make it past the June 7 primary in the race to succeed retiring U.S. senator Barbara Boxer. California attorney general Kamala Harris has a comfortable—but not overwhelming—lead over fellow Democrat Loretta Sanchez, a congresswoman from Orange County. Three Republican candidates trail far behind. Due to California’s unusual election rules, the top two vote-getters in the primary—regardless of party affiliation—will face each other in November. If the current polling stands, the general election to fill the senate seat Boxer has held since 1992 will likely be a contest between two liberal Democrats: Harris (now at 27 percent) and Sanchez (at 14 percent).

The most popular Republican currently in the race—with a scant 5 percent in the polls—is Ron Unz. A gadfly businessman-activist and former 1994 gubernatorial candidate, Unz espouses an eclectic platform that includes raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour, restricting immigration, and challenging the science behind “climate change.” Unz, who admits that his primary reason for running is to head off efforts to repeal Proposition 227, the 1998 ballot measure he championed to dismantle California’s ruinous bilingual education system, has the endorsement of Ron Paul. Former California Republican Party chairman George “Duf” Sundheim, a Bay Area attorney, languishes at 2 percent. The previous Republican “frontrunner,” GOP state assemblyman Rocky Chavez, who had been polling in the single digits, dropped out in February due to fundraising difficulties.

The Democrats’ poll rankings have remained relatively steady for months, despite the millions raised and spent by Harris. Demographic shifts and an exodus of middle-class voters have turned California into a one-party state. In statewide races, the GOP has become irrelevant; Republican candidates regularly lose by over a million votes. Accepting the “lesser-of-two-evils” reality of California politics, the right-leaning Orange County Register recently endorsed Sanchez, largely because of her opposition to the Iraq War, USA PATRIOT Act, and the $700 billion bank bailout.

It’s a testament to liberal hegemony in California that Sanchez is considered a moderate. She has a 100 percent score from Planned Parenthood, a zero rating from the American Conservative Union, an “F” from the National Rifle Association, and a record of voting with Nancy Pelosi (when she was House speaker) 97.8 percent of the time. Sanchez has taken flack for her suggestion—based on experts’ estimates—that between 5 and 20 percent of American Muslims are potential radicals who support the establishment of an Islamic caliphate. Her statement, issued in the wake of the San Bernardino terrorist attack in December, was immediately (and predictably) criticized by the Council on Islamic-American Relations and other Muslim groups. Harris, by contrast, has called opposition to resettling Syrian refugees “purely anti-Muslim rhetoric.” “We have to embrace our Muslim brothers and sisters wherever they are and not assume that because of the God they pray to and believe in that they are terrorists that are going to harm us when they come here,” she declared in a recent debate.

Given the Left’s dominance in California, Republican Sundheim’s warning that the stylish Harris is an unprincipled tool of the public employee unions, trial lawyers, and environmentalists—not to mention an enemy of law enforcement—won’t have much effect on her support among Democrats. She is a popular two-term attorney general and the media’s darling. Her record as a consumer advocate who favors gun control and comprehensive immigration reform has great appeal to her party’s core voters.

In the final weeks of the primary campaign, Harris and Sanchez will campaign as the unabashed liberals they are, almost certainly finishing first and second in a crowded field of 34 candidates. November, however, may be a different story. Harris, who will out-poll Sanchez in June, could nonetheless lose in November. Sanchez has several advantages heading into the general election. Southern California’s large Hispanic population will likely turn out for her. Moreover, Golden State Republicans, having no candidate of their own to support, will be forced to choose between Harris and Sanchez. GOP voters in California are a minority but they still number in the millions. In a presidential election year, they will turn out in force. Expect them to vote for the least liberal of the Senate candidates on the ballot—Loretta Sanchez.

Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images

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