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You can’t blame Californians for being somewhat jaded, if not downright disinterested, in statewide elections. Just look at the numbers.
Jerry Brown won last year’s gubernatorial contest by 20 points without working up a sweat (or bothering to run ads). He also won by a shade under 13%, back in 2010. As for presidential contests, America’s nation-state hasn’t gone with a Republican since George H.W. Bush back in 1988. The average spread in the last five presidential years is 17 points, ranging from a 24-point Obama win in 2008 to a 10-point George W. Bush loss in 2004. Then there’s the U.S. Senate, which will be in play in 2016 with Barbara Boxer stepping down after four terms. Will a Republican take her seat? Don’t bet on it. The average GOP Senate loss in years coinciding with a presidential election — this is going back to 1992, when Boxer and Dianne Feinstein were first elected — is the same 17 points. Take out Boxer’s 5% win in 1992 and it’s over 20%.
But that doesn’t mean the Senate race won’t be fun to watch, especially when the two Democrats in the race cross paths. That would be State Attorney General Kamala Harris and Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez.
One way to look at Harris is as a Golden State version of Barack Obama — three years younger than the President, also of mixed race (her father’s black, her mother Indian-American), and likewise running with a record of exaggerated accomplish in her time as an AG and prosecutor.
This weekend, at a Democratic Party gathering in Southern California, Harris began to add some substance to a campaign that so far’s been vague and conceptual. However, she didn’t offer anything earth-shattering: addressing a crowd that also heard from Elizabeth Warren, Harris echoed the Massachusetts senator in badmouthing inequality while championing marijuana legalization and citizenship for illegal immigrants.
And she took a swipe at her rival Sanchez, who’s been in the House since the 1990s, saying: “I believe we can disrupt the dysfunction in D.C.”
Here’s where the Democratic portion of the field may get muddy. While Harris is going after Sanchez’s resume, Sanchez seems interested in playing the race card. Last month, in an event at a Sacramento Mexican restaurant, she made it a point to point out that Harris doesn’t speak Spanish. This past week, Congressman Xavier Becerra, who’s also considering jumping into the Senate contest, challenged the media to probe Harris positions.
A Democrat conquering by dividing by race isn’t a new development in California. In 2010, facing a difficult reelect campaign against Republican Van Tran, Sanchez got into hot water for remarking that “the Vietnamese and Republicans” were trying to steal her congressional seat.
Nor is it the first time that two or more Democratic candidates have collided along racial lines. It’s been an issue in past contests in the Los Angeles and San Jose areas, and a conflict between establishment white politicians and ascendant minority candidates — and a point of contention back in the days of California gerrymandering.
But this kind of Democrat-on-Democrat fight is a new wrinkle as far as a high-profile statewide race goes. And in California, where one party is dominant, it might be a recurring theme as the likes of Boxer and Brown and Feinstein give way to a new generation of Democrats who aren’t monochromatic.
One last note about that Democratic Party convention. To the extent there was controversy, it wasn’t the noisy protestations over the President’s trade policy. Instead, it was what happened when Sanchez met with Indian-American Democrats.
The congresswoman told a story about the time she confused a Native American with a East Indian. “I am going to his office, thinking that I am going to meet with a,” she said, reportedly holding her hand in front of her mouth and making an echo sound. “Right?…because he said Indian-American.
“And I go in there and it was great. It was just great because he said ‘I want to get my community involved.’ Involved. And that was the first time that we saw the Indian American community really come…”
Here’s the video:
Earlier the same day, Sanchez told reporters that he had been under pressure from Democrats who didn’t want her to run. As she told reporters: “As I told everybody, I was not going to be pushed in, not was going to be pushed out.”
She may be getting another round of calls: if not to get out, at the very least to pipe down.Published in