The bottom line on Rep. Loretta Sanchez’s announcement that she’s running for the U.S. Senate is this: it’s the best thing to happen to California political writers since 2010, when Meg Whitman discovered the state’s crying need for her to become governor.
The state press corps, facing the horror of covering a 2016 campaign packed with all the drama and entertainment juice of a race for the San Mateo Mosquito and Vector Control District, cheered as one on Thursday, as Sanchez entered the race to challenge the attempted coronation of Attorney General Kamala Harris, confirming the institutional bias of reporters always voting for the story.
“There are two kinds of candidates,” Ms. Loretta said, in a not-very-veiled slap at the Anointed One, “those who want to be something and those who want to do something. I am running for Senate because I am a doer.”
For good measure, she added a jab at Willie Brown, Kamala’s ex-boyfriend, who’s worked to clear the Democratic field for his erstwhile paramour: “In California, I believe that insiders don’t pick our leaders — the voters elect our leaders,” she said.
As a practical matter, Queen Kamala remains at least a one-touchdown favorite over the plucky and slightly whacky Sanchez. The congress member starts $2.5 million behind in money and also in big-time endorsements, including progressive heroine, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. With the November election a scant 542 day away, some preliminary blinding insights about major factors:
1-The Latino factor: If elected, Sanchez would become the first Latina ever in the U.S. Senate and the first Latino from California, a possibility that could create considerable excitement among an ethnic group whose voter turnout notoriously runs behind its proportion of the state’s population as a whole; her candidacy also cancels out, if not trumps, Harris’s standing as a high-profile minority woman Democrat. With immigration reform a crucial national issue, we’re impressed with how skillfully Loretta talks about the issue, and there’s no way Kamala competes with her on that one.
2-The flake factor: Sanchez has a well-earned reputation as an eccentric, which could bite her. Voters may not care much when they learn of her planned fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion during the 2000 Democratic National Convention, or her notoriously unconventional Christmas cards, when she often posed with her late pussy Gretzky; such antics are one thing for an entrenched House member but another for a statewide candidate, and if her past behavior proves a prologue for the Senate race, it will be trouble.
3-The national security factor: Harris has zero experience dealing with national issues, most notably foreign policy and national security, one big reason she’s ducked reporters’ questions for months. Having spent 19 years in Congress, Sanchez has become the senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee and second-ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, and is fluent in the language of the high-stakes matters discussed and debated on those panels. Harris is learning from scratch.
4-The Kamala glass chin factor: Bill Carrick, Loretta’s chief consultant, has made no secret of his belief that Harris is soft and untested — “This whole Kamala as big-frontrunner thing is silly,” he told us — noting that her only competitive statewide race was in 2010; then, she very nearly embarrassed herself by letting a Republican win a constitutional office, as she beat Steve Cooley, a GOP DA, by the smashing margin of 46.1-to-45.3 percent. Sanchez is a tough, gritty campaigner, witness her shocking upset of longtime Republican icon, Rep. Robert Dornan, in 1994; on the other hand, Loretta has never run statewide, and has as much to prove on the big stage as Kamala.
5-The top two factor: With apologies to Rep. Rocky Chavez, if not the extraordinarily obnoxious Tom Del Baccaro, the state Republicans are not exactly putting up Murderer’s Row to compete for this seat. This raises the distinct possibility of a Democrat-on-Democrat general election contest, the first statewide under the top two system. That’s an all-bets-are-off storyline scrambling all known political calculus.
6-The consultant factor. Carrick is one-half of a terrific match-up between two of the smartest and savviest strategists in California, facing off against Kamala’s Ace Smith. We first met both these guys in 1990, when Carrick ran Dianne Feinstein’s insurgent campaign for governor and Smith masterminded the victory of his father, Arlo Smith, in a brutal primary for AG against L.A. DA Ira Reiner. We’re buying ringside seats to watch the two of them go at it.
On the other hand, we have a glove: All that said, we also see a possible scenario in which Sanchez ends up not running for Senate at all, but wins by losing by letting Kamala romp to victory against whatever second or third-rank Republican she ends up facing.
Here is how it could work:
Some Actual Reporting shows that the filing deadline window for federal office in 2016 is not until Feb. 15 to March 11. This means that Sanchez could campaign for U.S. Senate through 2015, raising federal funds, building a statewide organization and increasing her name ID throughout California.
If she still looks competitive then, she could go ahead and battle Harris; if at the end of the year, a Senate bid looks like a losing cause, however, she still could re-file for her Orange County seat in the House.
In that case, all the federal funds she had left over would be fully fungible into her House candidate account (as long as she doesn’t double up on individual donors) and she’d be in perfect position to run for re-election.
Not only that, but if (and we’re not betting on this) Senator Dianne Feinstein decides to retire in 2018, Sanchez would have catapulted to the A List of potential candidates. And Carrick would have a Senate candidate.
Just a thought.
P.S. All the heavy breathing by reporters now making a big deal about the fact that Sanchez stumbled out of the box on her announcement really need to chill.
As all Calbuzzers know by now, Loretta’s campaign sent out a draft email about her intended announcement event to four people to look over, one of whom passed it along via a “reply all” goof, by which means it went to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, where a well-meaning staffer promptly e-blasted it to his list; from there the indefatigable Chris Cadelago got hold of it and scooped the world. His story led Team Sanchez, inexplicably, to deny her running was a done, done, deal. Except: it was.
As Carrick told us: “I’m pretty sure that when voters go to the polls in 2016, their top concerns will be jobs, the economy, national security and Sanchez staffers sending out an email by mistake.”