Dianne Feinstein’s biggest challenge next year won’t come from a serious Republican opponent – it’ll be replenishing her war chest after it was plundered by Kinde Durkee, her longtime campaign treasurer who is suspected of looting as much as $5 million from the senior senator’s coffers.
That’s the overwhelming consensus of the Calbuzz Advisory Board of the World’s Leading Authorities on Practically Everything — a panel of the most staggeringly brilliant and experienced political consultants and strategists in California — after we asked: Who will be Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s chief Republican challenger in 2012?
“That person honestly doesn’t exist,” said one GOP member of the prestigious Calbuzz California Consultanate. “Our bench doesn’t even have a bench. But whoever figures out that DiFi is almost certain to under-perform next year could seize a great opportunity to gain the credibility and network for future statewide runs.”
While no panelist could name a GOP challenger with any degree of confidence, some suggested that making a run at Feinstein – especially by a self-financed millionaire – could buy that individual important statewide respect.
Of course, that doesn’t take into account the likelihood that Feinstein’s longtime consultant, Bill Carrick, would spend as much of Feinstein’s money as he could squeeze out of the penurious senator to shred the opponent’s reputation. (Think: “Texas oil man Californians just can’t trust.”
“I don’t think it matters a lick,” who runs against Feinstein, said one Democrat. “She is going to win. But I’m sure Bill Carrick and the rest of DiFi’s consultant team are hoping some wealthy Republican candidate sucker steps forward so they at least get a payday out of it.”
The idea of consultants making serious money wasn’t alien to Republicans, either. Said one: “[Feinstein’s opponent will be] some businessman nobody has heard of that a consultant recruits and convinces to spend his own money on TV (with commissions).”
After Calbuzz tried and failed to convince eMeg Whitman to jump into the race (mostly for our amusement), the only Republican making noise about being a candidate is whack-job birther Orly Taitz. Feinstein’s opponent, said one GOP operative with a touch of irony, will be Taitz “or someone as equally positioned to challenge Feinstein.”
But, said another less sarcastic Republican, “I don’t know who the GOP candidate against Feinstein will be but I do know who it won’t be — Orly Taitz. She was slaughtered by an unknown in a GOP primary for Secretary of State, demonstrating the media attention paid to her is silly.
“It is ironic,” this Republican added, “that when Feinstein is at her most vulnerable since 1994, California Republicans don’t even have a warm body yet to run against her.”
Likewise, one Democrat noted that “since California no longer counts Mickey Mouse votes (which would beat the Republican vote in this election), there will be no major Republican challenger — only a sacrificial lamb.”
But a Republican offered: “Mickey Mouse. However, when Minnie shows up at a news conference called by Gloria Allred and speaks of the injurious multiple affairs Mickey has consummated…Mickey withdraws and the GOP State Committee replaces Mickey with Donald Duck. Needless to say DiFi will most likely romp to reelection.”
A couple of panelists mentioned U.S. Rep. David Dreier, whose congressional district was chopped up and rendered Democratic by California’s bi-partisan redistricting commission.
“My hope,” said a Republican strategist, “David Dreier, who does not have anything else to run for and would be a credit to the ticket.”
“David Dreier,” said one Democrat. “The one thing I would say though is that in 2012 given the continued likely ugly political environment that can strike incumbents in both parties the nomination is worth having so we may be surprised by who gets in.”
Some other comments from Republicans:
— No one of consequence. Her biggest challenge will be getting back the money that her treasurer stole.
— My first question: Does it really make any difference? The last time a Republican won a major statewide race (forgetting the recall) was 1994. John Seymour was the last Republican U.S. Senator. Carly Fiorina made a valiant effort against a much less liked incumbent and lost badly. Obama will carry the state by at least 15%. The candidate would have to be a self-funder to be competitive, but that does not generally work well.
— The fact that nobody has declared an intention to run at this time speaks volumes, but look to the ranks of former legislators or local government for the eventual GOP nominee. Peter Foy, for example, could be that experienced outsider who can invigorate the base and champion a Republican message.
— Time. Sen. Feinstein can have the job as long as she wants it.
— Big mountain to climb, but in this political climate and the continuing downward spiral in congressional approval ratings, maybe so. Regardless, it would take a candidate who is smart, reform-minded, not a slave to ideology, and not from the professional political class — someone with a hefty checkbook who’s prepared to write big checks and fight to repair the system once elected. Charles Munger Jr. comes to mind. He spent millions taking on the ruling classes of both parties on reapportionment and won. Not a bad story to tell.
— There is no broad-based candidate who has emerged to challenge Feinstein at this time and I am not convinced there will be one
— Right now no one poses a serious challenge to Sen. Feinstein, but the election is a year away, and anything can happen. If Sen. Feinstein starts to appear vulnerable next year, the only Republican who has the resources, has been fully vetted statewide and has the experience to challenge her would be Steve Poizner.”
And more from some of the Democrats:
— It doesn’t matter who Feinstein’s GOP opponent will be, she can’t be beat. Chuck DeVore has fled to Texas, so he probably won’t be running for Senate again, and Carly Fiorina couldn’t even come close to beating Barbara Boxer, despite all the millions she spent. Shall we resurrect Richard Mountjoy or Bill Jones?
— The Republican bench is so small that it must get lonely out there. It’s hard to imagine any of them are ready to take on Dianne Feinstein. Steve Poizner still has plenty of money, but he lost his moderate brand in his bruising primary with Meg Whitman and may not have the stomach for another campaign. Abel Maldonado is a perennial favorite of the Great Mentioner, but after his embarrassing loss to Gavin Newsom, he is smart to stay in the Congressional race against Lois Capps. Redistricting has not been kind to members of Congress such as David Dreier, Brian Bilbray, Gary Miller and Ed Royce – but none of them have both the profile and the fundraising ability to win a statewide race.
California is home to more than 600,000 millionaires, so a last minute self-funding candidate is always a possibility. But as Sarah Palin might say, how’s that former CEO millionaire model workin’ out for you, California Republicans?
My nomination for the strongest Republican non-candidate: San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders. Sanders has built a profile that could appeal to the moderate voters who make the difference in statewide elections. As San Diego’s popular police chief, he implemented community policing and afterschool programs. As Mayor, he enacted pension reform, embraced Mayor Bloomberg’s gun control campaign, earned a 100% rating from Planned Parenthood and took a courageous stand for marriage equality. On the other hand, he’s touchy on the campaign trail, a mediocre fundraiser and pushed unpopular taxes and cuts to city services. Not to mention that he might be presiding over the loss of the Chargers to LA.
— I have no f**king idea! None, nada, nothing. I asked everyone in my office to give me ideas, searched under the chairs in the conference room, but there was nothing there. Really, does it matter? They will lose.
— Well funded player to be named later
— Her chief challenge will be refilling her coffers after they were pilfered. As for an opponent, look for token opposition from a underfinanced Tea Party candidate, an up and coming Republican with nothing to lose, or perhaps a Republican congressman who was redistricted out of their seat.
Then there was the most unkind response of all:
“Senator Feinstein’s principal opposition comes from two cranky old journos who have a snarky blog for political junkies.”
We resent that: we are not snarky.