California Republicans squeezed out of Senate contest
Campaign 2016 | Because of the state’s primary rules, two Democrats are running for an open Senate seat
by Laura Finch
Posted 10/24/16, 11:55 am
The U.S. Senate race in California gives voters a choice between two Democrats, something no other state offers this election.
That’s because California rewrote its election rules in 2010 to list every candidate on the same primary ballot and advance the two highest vote-getters to the general election.
Attorney General Kamala Harris will face U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, who has represented an Orange County-area congressional district since 1996. The two are vying for the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, who was first elected to the Senate in 1992. Harris beat Sanchez in the primary by 20 points and currently boasts a 13.3 percent lead in a Real Clear Politics average of polls.
There’s one area, however, where the candidates are tied: Both receive a 100-percent score in Planned Parenthood’s 2016 general election voter guide.
Jonathan Keller, executive director of the California Family Council, said this race in some ways mirrors what happened on a national level during this year’s presidential primary: Too many Republican candidates split the vote, allowing Sanchez to squeak through to the final round.
Republicans are already at a numerical disadvantage in the state. The California Secretary of State on Sept. 9 reported 8.3 million registered Democrats and only 4.8 million registered Republicans—a percentage difference of nearly 20 points.
Then 12 Republicans, seven Democrats, and 15 third-party candidates filed to run for the seat—the first open Senate seat in California in more than 20 years. Adding up vote totals for all the Republicans who ran yields 29.4 percent, far above Sanchez’ 18.6 percent.
“Technically, if all of those candidates’ voters had coalesced, you would have been able to eke out a win over Sanchez,” Keller said.
Born to an Indian mother and a Jamaican father, Harris grew up singing in a Baptist choir. “[Her parents’] faith melded Hindu and Baptist practices,” according to a story in Essence magazine.
Harris worked as the San Francisco district attorney before taking statewide office in 2011. She’s won endorsements from President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Gov. Jerry Brown, and both current senators from California.
But Harris riled conservatives by attempting to force the conservative political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity to disclose IRS forms with the names of donors giving more than $5,000. She claims such disclosures are necessary to protect taxpayers from fraud. A federal judge struck down the attempt earlier this year, and Americans for Prosperity recently won an appeal.
“Attorney General Harris’ actions are unconstitutional on their face as to all groups,” said Mark Holden, general counsel for Koch Industries and a board member for Americans for Prosperity.
Harris has included in her platform criminal justice reform that would offer jobs and counseling to low-level offenders to reduce recidivism. She also supports downgrading marijuana’s classification on the federal controlled-substance schedule of drugs.
Sanchez is leaning heavily on her national security experience to set her apart from Harris. She is certainly well traveled: In her 20 years in the House, Sanchez has taken a total of 50 privately sponsored, House-approved trips, 20 of them to international destinations, according to the online transparency tool Legistorm. But she has missed more than half of her Homeland Security Committee hearings since 2003, according to McClatchy News Bureau, and missed two-thirds of all House roll call votes in September, according to CQ Roll Call. She also failed to show up even once for a terrorism task force to which she was appointed chair.
If elected, Sanchez, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, would be the first Latina senator. The Senate has not had a female senator of color since Illinois’ Carol Moseley Braun left office in 1999.
Nancy Sandoval of Mission Viejo, Calif., attends Saddleback Church and runs a homespun, conservative Christian voter guide. She has no official recommendation in the race.
“Both [candidates] are not even close to what a conservative Christian is interested in,” she said.
Laura is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute's mid-career course.