STOCKTON, Calif. -- Purely as an act of political mischief, this Republican has toyed with the idea of voting in June for Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., in the race to fill Sen. Barbara Boxer's seat. Under California's "top two" primary rules, there's the possibility that two Democrats could face each other in November. California Attorney General Kamala Harris, the Democratic front-runner, leans way too far left. Given Harris' ties to national party biggies, I'd rather see the gaffe-prone Sanchez win the seat, as a Sanchez win would deprive Harris of a spot on a not-too-distant national ticket. Bonus points: Sanchez would be easier than Harris to take out in six years.
But after watching Monday's senatorial debate at the University of the Pacific, I no longer feel so frisky. On the issues, Harris and Sanchez are too alike. Both support free community college tuitions. Both denounce Washington for deporting undocumented immigrants. They are different, however, when it comes to style. Sanchez too frequently speaks about herself, too frequently makes issues about her -- by citing her work on the House Homeland Security Committee, with scant mention of the many hearings she skipped -- and too infrequently gets to the point. In landing this Democratic opponent, once again Kamala Harris is the luckiest politician in California.
So I'll vote Republican -- but which Republican?
The libertarian-leaning Ron Unz isn't running to win. He admits he got into this race to shine attention on the campaign to undermine Proposition 227, his successful 1998 ballot initiative to end most bilingual education in California. Before the debate, I asked Unz whether he thought he should bow out to make room for a more viable GOP candidate. But as the debate unfolded, it became clear that if anything, Unz just as likely could siphon votes from Democrats. He backs Bernie Sanders' bid for a higher minimum wage. He blamed the Iraq War for Islamic terrorism in the Middle East today.
For their part, former California Republican Party Chairmen Tom Del Beccaro and Duf Sundheim are running as Republicans. At a university, both said no to tuition pandering. "If you want to see something get really expensive, make it free," Sundheim observed. Both are working to find a way to sell conservative values to left-leaning Californians.
Alas, none of the candidates -- not Sanchez or Unz or Del Beccaro or Sundheim -- took on Harris on her political record. As San Francisco district attorney, she turned the city's sanctuary policy into a welcome mat for undocumented immigrants with criminal backgrounds. As California attorney general, she used her elective office to thwart attempts to pass pension reform through a ballot initiative. Del Beccaro mentioned the former DA's failure to go for the death penalty against a San Francisco cop killer and referred to her support of a sanctuary city policy that shielded undocumented immigrant felons who claimed to be juveniles. But if you didn't know the stories, you missed the hit. As for Sundheim, he knows how to talk to voters outside of the GOP. He likes to boast that when he worked with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, they got things done. But to get things done, first you've got to beat your opponents.