Market Overview

California Senate Seat in Play for GOP


After much anticipation in Republican circles during the 2010 election cycle about the prospect of victories in both the gubernatorial and the senate races turned out to be unfounded, many thought of Dianne Feinstein's 2012 Senate seat as out of the question. The progressive former mayor of San Francisco has held her seat since the 1992 election, and hasn't had a serious challenge since Michael Huffington in 1994. Yet despite the conventional wisdom that the seat is not winnable, rumblings among Republican insiders have intensified about the potential for pulling off an upset victory in the Golden State.

The root of this enthusiasm stems from the fact that California voters, even independents and Democrats, are tiring of the lack of activism Feinstein has shown in recent years. Recent polls have shown Feinstein's approval ratings at all time lows, hovering around 40%, even with the senator's disapproval. In a state as notably liberal as California, this level of vulnerability does not occur often, and calls for Republican initiatives to take advantage of the opportunity.

The first step in this process is the recruitment of a top tier candidate that has a level of name recognition and fundraising respect that will force national Democrats' hands into putting big money into this hold. Thus far a number of names have been circulated, including former President Ronald Reagan's son, Michael, but there has not been a single entrant that is expected to be able to compete in a hard fought race. The name to watch in the coming months is Congressman Darrell Issa, Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Issa was heavily involved in the 2003 recall of Gray Davis, and has a level of personal wealth that would be beneficial in leveling the slanted playing field in California. His mature tone and brand of articulate pragmatic conservatism makes him an electable candidate who would be welcomed by national Senate Republicans.

The wrinkle that could cause a major shakeup in the race is the increasingly plausible decision by Senator Feinstein to forgo reelection and retire. Feinstein will be 79 on Election Day, and questions have risen regarding her desire to engage in a hard fought reelection campaign. The addition of a top-tier Republican candidate to the race very well could be the final straw in Feinstein's decision to call it a career after 20 years in Congress' upper chamber.

The Democrat most often talked about as Feinstein's potential successor is former San Francisco mayor and current Lieutenant Governor, Gavin Newsom. The 44 year old is a liberal progressive heartthrob who has championed efforts in same sex marriage, universal health care, and as mayor, was the most spoken advocate of sanctuary cities nationwide. While the far left is salivating at the opportunity to move Newsom up the political latter, Republicans see his potential candidacy as the perfect avenue to regain a California senate seat. He is out of touch with the mainstream, even in California, and would be a major liability for Democrats all the way down the ticket.

Regardless of Feinstein's reelection decision, the senate race in California is going to be one to keep a keen eye on. Republicans are going to sense blood in the water quickly as they maneuver to make this seat is not only competitive, but very winnable come November 2012. While prominent tossups like Florida and Ohio continue to garner headlines, a Republican victory in California would be the type of election-defining result that would be felt for years to come.

Posted-In: Dianne Feinstein Gavin Newsom GOP U.S. SenatePolitics General Best of Benzinga


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