Tom Campbell fears that Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter’s defection to the Democrats will damage the Republican brand. But he still believes California GOP voters may choose him as their candidate for governor for pragmatic political reasons.
The moderate Campbell, in an email exchange with Calbuzz, said that while Republicans nationally are moving increasingly to the right, he could “unify” the state GOP in the same way Pete Wilson did in 1990, around the issue of congressional redistricting.
“The best evidence” that a moderate can win the Republican primary, he said, “is Pete Wilson’s being embraced by the social conservatives when he ran for governor in 1990.” (Of course, Wilson was already in the U.S. Senate and state party brahmins were desperate for a slam-dunk candidate to follow George Deukmejian.)
Although Proposition 11, which was passed last November, handed to an independent commission the once-a-decade job of redrawing Assembly, state Senate and Board of Equalization districts, the power to draw new maps for House seats remained in the hands of the the Legislature and governor.
Campbell thinks that despite his conflicts with the Republican right-wing over social issues – as well as his current support of Proposition 1A on the May 19 special election ballot – he is positioned to make an electability argument in the primary against Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner.
“The new governor will preside over the congressional redistricting,” he told us. “That is a huge issue to all Republicans, and was a large factor in Pete’s ability to unite the party behind his gubernatorial candidacy in 1990 (it included the Legislature too, then).”
Campbell cited his own congressional service as evidence of the importance of having a Republican governor. In 1988 he was elected to the first of two terms in the 12th congressional district seat in Silicon Valley; after giving up the seat to run unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 1992, he won a special election for the 15th congressional district, when incumbent Norm Mineta took a cabinet post with the Clinton Administration.
“I was first elected under the gerrymandered map from 1980, Jerry Brown was the governor, the Legislature was Democratic-controlled, and I recall being one of 21 Republicans, with 31 Democrats, in the California Congressional delegation (Please forgive me if that’s not perfect, I’m doing this from recall),” he said. “When I was elected in the (Mineta) special in 1995, it was in a district drawn by the California Supreme Court, because Gov. Wilson had vetoed the Democratic Legislature’s map, and I recall making the delegation an even 27-27 split.
“That shows the difference fair district lines can make; and the importance of having a Republican Governor,” he added. “That won’t be lost on the GOP rank and file.”
But Campbell also acknowledged that Specter’s party switch symbolizes a troubling trend for Republicans nationally, as the dominance of the party’s right-wing makes moderates increasingly uncomfortable.
“The more that moderates leave the party, obviously, the less centrist it becomes. Most Americans, and Californians, seek solutions in the center. So the Republican label becomes less attractive. We can safely assume that Democratic candidates will try to say all Republicans are extremists.”
But that doesn’t mean Campbell sees himself as a switch hitter.
“I don’t see a change of parties in my future, “Campbell said. “I don’t think any candidate ever fits perfectly in any party, but in my case the fit with the Republican Party is much closer than it would be with the Democratic Party.”
You gotta admire Campbell’s persistent search a positive angle and he may be right that in a general election for governor he’d be a strong contender against any of the Democrats now lined up. But Calbuzz is far from persuaded that GOP primary voters will set aside their differences with Campbell on abortion, gay rights and Proposition 1A, to vote in favor of electability.