On Thursday, one of California’s two long-serving Democrat Senators, Barbara Boxer, 74, announced that she will not be seeking re-election next year. First elected in 1992, Boxer has been perhaps one of the most stridently liberal voices in the United States Senate for over two decades. Boxer released her announcement in the form of a choreographed “interview” between herself and her oldest grandson, Zack, released on YouTube.
Speculation had been swirling around for months that Boxer’s retirement was imminent, largely focused around her anemic fundraising totals at the end of the most recent reporting period. Prior to her election to the Senate Boxer was a U.S. Representative for part of the San Francisco Bay Area. Her politics have certainly matched those of her region.
According to the American Conservative Union, which releases an annual scorecard of members of the Senate and Congress, Boxer’s lifetime average score is 2.84–with zero being the most liberal, and one hundred being the most conservative.
It has been said the wait for Boxer or her colleague, Senator Dianne Feinstein, to retire has been like driving around a full parking lot waiting for a spot to open up. Well, with the news that one of those spots (at least) is going to be open, a lot of aspiring United States Senators will be jockeying to get into the position. Boxer’s early announcement means there will be plenty of time for anyone thinking about running to assess his or her chances and jump into the fray.
The most talked-about potential candidates for U.S. Senate include Lt. Governor and former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newson, Attorney General Kamala Harris, and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Other names that have been bandied about include Governor Jerry Brown, newly minted State Treasurer John Chiang, current Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and former hedge-fund manager Tom Steyer, who is worth a cool $1.6 billion.
Noticeably absent from this ersatz Senators list are Republicans. Can a Republican even compete statewide in California anymore?
As of early September, out of 17,634,876 registered voters, 28.2% are Republicans, 43.4% are Democrats and 23.1% have declared no party preference. In the last election Democrats swept every single statewide office on the ballot.
When GOPer Carly Fiorina ran against Boxer back in 2010, she ended up at just 42% of the vote–and the GOP has really hemorrhaged voters these last several years. Moreover, Fiorina’s was a very well funded campaign.
In his 2014 gubernatorial campaign against Jerry Brown, Republican Neel Kashkari topped out at 40% of the statewide vote–roughly the same percentage that Meg Whitman received in her run against Brown in 2010.
At this point Republicans have such a deficit of voters, and have had such a depletion of resources, that it would be an uphill battle to be viable in a statewide general election.
That said, a short-list of potential Republican candidates might include Congressman Darrell Issa, who ran for the Senate before, and who is the wealthiest man in Congress; or Congressman Ed Royce, the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who is a proven fundraiser. Kevin Faulconer, the Mayor of San Diego, who has a proven fundraising base, has declined to run. The others would have to give up the offices they hold in order to make such a run.
Given that the investment for Republicans to even be competitive financially in a California U.S. Senate race would be tens of millions of dollars, candidates who have had not demonstrated fundraising prowess, such as someone like Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, would be unlikely to make a national target list.
One obscure theory already being circulated by pundits is that with California’s relatively new top-two election system–where the top two vote-getters in June, regardless of party affiliation, advance to the November election–it is possible to have two Republicans advance. This could only happen if the GOP field was severely limited–ideally to just two candidates–and we saw a huge donnybrook on the Democrat side, with a half-dozen or more candidates. Under that scenario, says Republican consultant Rob Stutzman, “It is entirely possible that even in as blue a state as California, a Republican could slip into the Senate seat.”
Of course, news of Boxer’s retirement is only hours old, and so this story is still, as Matt Drudge would say, “developing…”–but there is the very strong possibility that Senator Feinstein, who is now 81 years old, will call it quits in 2016 as well.
One thing you can be certain of is that many California conservatives will celebrating the news of Boxer’s retirement while dining on foie gras, given the federal court decision yesterday to invalid California’s ban on the opulent culinary delight.
Jon Fleischman is the Politics Editor of Breitbart California. A longtime participant, observer and chronicler of California politics, Jon is also the publisher at www.flashreport.org. His column appears weekly on this page. You can reach Jon at firstname.lastname@example.org.