Thursday, January 8, 2015

Senator Barbara Boxer retires. Who's next?

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has announced her retirement. So now the question is who will replace her and that’s a juicy question. There hasn’t been an open California senate seat in 24 years. California is a big state. There are a lot of people waiting for this opportunity and now is the time for it. So I’ll answer the questions.

Won’t some people wait for 2018 when Dianne Feinstein likely retires?
Some might. This isn’t a state with a clear frontrunner that you don’t have to run against in 2018 just because they ran in 2016. There is a caveat, however. First, the best competitor will be out of the way. Secondarily, there will be statewide elections in 2018. John Chiang, Gavin Newsom, and Kamala Harris, three heavyweights, don’t have to give up any 2018 opportunity or their current office by running in 2016. They all might pass on a 2018 senate run as a result.

That said, there are still a lot of formidable Democrats out there who’ll run in 2018. If a candidate wants a senate seat, you’re twice as likely to get one by running in two races and you can make a lot of fundraising connections as well as raise your profile by running and losing in a primary. And California is definitely a state you need name recognition to win in. The experience of running in a statewide senate race can help you not make the same mistakes then. There will be people who run twice.

Democrats like to clear the field. Why won’t they this time?
There are a lot of them that want this seat and it’ll be too tempting to pass up. In the past they haven’t been able to clear the field in California. Look at the open seat primary for CA-33 this year. There was a possibility that two Republicans could finish top two and still four serious Democratic candidates ran and the liberal Marianne Williamson ran as an independent. This race will draw at least four serious Democratic candidates and probably as many as eight. Some may drop their candidacy if they think they can’t win, but if they do so after the filing deadline they’ll still be on the ballot the way Leland Yee was this year.

Can a Republican win the seat?

Really, that’s all you got?
I figure you want a simple answer and the chances of a Republican winning the seat are zero except in two instances. First, if Republicans were to nominate a well-known/well-liked candidate who isn’t identified as a Republican politician that candidate would have a shot at centrist votes. You’re talking Arnold Schwarzenegger circa mid-2000’s.

Does such a candidate exist?
Maybe. Such a candidate is rare and we’d only know if he or she is possible after we see polling. Condoleezza Rice comes to mind. I don’t know if she’s popular enough, good enough at running a campaign, or if her connection with George W. Bush would hurt her that much. She’s never run for public office before and that’s both a positive and a negative. It’s a positive because she wouldn’t be seen as a typical politician. It’s a negative because running a campaign is harder if you’ve never done it. There’s no one else I can think of who currently matches this profile.

Would she run?
I’ve heard whispers that she wants to run for office at some point. I don’t know what or when but I think her sights would be set on a high office.

What is two Republicans finish top two?
That’s the other scenario and yes if that happens a Republican will win.

Could that happen?
We’ve only two top two primaries but it has happened. Let’s look at that CA-33 primary again. Republicans only took 31.1% of the vote and the top Democrat got 18.8%. Republicans are going to take a higher percentage in 2016 and if exactly two Republican run they could both top 19%. It’s possible but not likely.

Could two Democrats advance?
That’s probably less likely. There’s no chance that only two Democrats get into the race. This is going to draw a lot of them. In CA-33, where Republicans only got 31.1% of the vote, a Republican finished first. You’d have to have three or more equally known or unknown Republicans to get that result. In 2012 there were 14 unknown Republicans and the leader got 12.6%. So it’s possible but the scenario would require Republicans to really have a fractured field.

What’s the best case vote share scenario for Democrats in the primary?
In 2012 we had the most popular Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, along with five other Democrats running against a group of no name Republicans who spent no money. The Democrats got 56.6% of the vote compared to 39.1% for the GOP. John Chiang, also a popular Democrat, won his primary 55.0% to 38.0% against another someone people didn’t know. So I think that’s your biggest possible margin. Some people might speculate it could be bigger because Democrats will spend a lot of money and maybe the Presidential primary could change it. Don’t buy it. There just aren’t better situations for Democrats than a popular incumbent candidate running for re-election against a nobody. The primary electorate mix is pretty much set.

What’s the best case for Republicans?
I’m not sure. In 2010, there were races that drew big spending Republicans and big spending Democrats and Democrats got 51% of the vote. But that was before top two and voting behavior in top two is different. Last year in an open seat controller’s race Democrats beat Republicans 48.4%-45.8%. That race did feature competition in each party, particularly on the Democratic side. But there wasn’t a lot of spending. It’s possible all the spending could cancel each other out and make it similar to this.

I think there will be significant more Republican effort in 2016 than we saw in statewide elections in 2014 or in the 2012 senate race. No serious Republicans entered those races but California state controller isn’t exactly a job everyone has been dreaming about since they were a child. They do dream of being a senator. Sure, it’s a long shot, but if you want to be a senator you have to give it a shot. I’m fairly certain you’ll see at least one serious Republican in the race. I’m not going to give a vote share estimate now until we see who enters.

Who will run for the GOP?
That’s murky among Republicans. No one has really speculated names because people figure a Republican will lose. Secretary Rice is possible. People have speculated that Neel Kashkari ran in 2014 to give himself name recognition for this race. While Kashkari has some name recognition, pre-election polls showed people didn’t know him. And he didn’t raise the money he needed to in order to get that name recognition. He’d be a step up from Elizabeth Emken, but his 40% gubernatorial vote says not much of one.

It’s possible, but unlikely, that a GOP congressman. It’d have to be someone who was ready to move on from the House because they’d be giving up their House seat for a sure loss. Maybe someone who recently retired might have always wanted to be a senator.

Who’ll run on the Democratic side?
Speculation has continually been that Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris are the two leading candidates. As the Washington Post points out, both are from San Francisco have the same bases and the same political consultant. I think one will run while the other will run for governor or senator in 2018. To me the favorite is Treasurer John Chiang. Chiang polls with higher approval ratings than either of them and got a higher percentage of the vote in both 2010 and 2014. None had serious competitors in 2014.

Ridiculously wealthy Tom Steyer may take a look. Former LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is "seriously considering" a bid. As I predicted, current LA Mayor Eric Garcetti won’t run. Facebook COO won't run either.

Some people have speculated that any House member wouldn’t run. They’d be giving up their House seat and they surely would be at a financial and name recognition disadvantage to the higher profile Democrats. While that’s true, there may be congressional Democrats who want to be a senator badly enough. Unlike Republicans they are almost certain to win if they survive the primary. They are also in the minority in the House and it looks unlikely they’ll take the majority again until after the next redistricting. So a Democratic congressman wouldn’t be risking that much. Lastly, congressmen in swing districts face tough re-elections every two years. If you’re a Raul Ruiz even a long shot at a senate seat you’ll keep for life might be more attractive than difficult campaigns knowing you may get knocked off one day. The last Democratic rep to run statewide was Jane Harman in 1998. She lost the primary but ran for her seat again two years later. If a Republican were to win their seat they can just try again to win it back.

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