By: John Wildermuth
It’s looking more and more like Sen. Dianne Feinstein is going to get another walkover when she runs for re-election this November and that’s bad news for California.
Nothing against Feinstein, who’s been a thoughtful, moderate and popular officeholder during her 19 years in the Senate. But it’s just wrong that someone should be able to slip back into one of the most powerful offices in the nation without even a whimper from the opposing party.
Sure, this is a blue state, Feinstein is probably the best-liked politician in California and boy howdy is it expensive to run a campaign here. But when less than two months before the March 9 nomination deadline the best the GOP can do for a candidate is Danville’s Elizabeth Emken, a children’s advocate who finished fourth of four in the 2010 Republican primary for Democrat Jerry McNerney’s 11th Congressional seat, something is seriously awry.
It’s not like everything’s coming up roses for Feinstein right now. A September Field Poll showed her job approval rating among registered voters at 41 percent, the lowest it’s been since she was first elected in 1992. The same poll found that only 41 percent supported her re-election – with 44 percent disinclined to send her back to Washington.
In an election year where “incumbent” is a dirty word, it’s amazing that the GOP can’t find anyone to take a run at Feinstein, who will turn 79 in June and be 85 when that next term ends.
Sure, the Republicans will come up with someone to run against Feinstein, just as they did in 2006, when retired legislator Dick Mountjoy signed on as the designated victim. He raised less than $200,000 to Feinstein’s $12 million and grabbed a snappy 35 percent of the vote.
There were no debates, no TV ads, no hard questions. Feinstein barely had to show up on the California campaign trail before quickly returning to Washington for another six years.
That’s not good enough for California. The state’s voters deserve a real campaign, with candidates on both sides forced to say where they stand and lay out their plans for the future of both California and the nation. They also should face tough questioning from voters who are clearly unhappy with the political status quo.
I’m not saying there’s a GOP candidate out there who can beat Feinstein in November or even that anyone should beat her.
But there are Republicans who could at least force Feinstein to run a real campaign and make her case to the people of California. That’s something she really hasn’t had to do since she eased past Santa Barbara Rep. Mike Huffington and his then-record spending in 1994.
GOP leaders aren’t likely to convince a big gun like former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to run against Feinstein, but what about respected San Dimas Rep. David Dreier, who after 31 years in Congress finds that redistricting has given him a Democrat-heavy district he probably can’t win?
Then there’s Jerry Sanders, a former police chief and popular mayor of San Diego who’s termed out of office this year. Or conservative Ventura County Supervisor Peter Foy, who’s anxious to grab some statewide visibility.
Maybe Carly Fiorina wants another shot at a Senate seat or Steve Poizner is anxious for another political go-around.
Republican power brokers will argue that none of those candidates – or anyone else available — could beat Feinstein and they’re likely right. They’ll also complain that putting on a full-blown campaign will take money the party doesn’t have, which is also true.
But the California GOP is in tatters right now. Their numbers are shrinking and they not only lost high-profile races for governor and U.S. Senate last year, but also every single race for constitutional office.
They’re a toothless minority in the Legislature, barely even consulted by the majority Democrats. In the wake of a disastrous redistricting, five GOP incumbents have left Congress and more could follow.
Is this really the time to wave a white flag before the new Senate race even starts?
Parties exist to compete and if they aren’t competing, why should anyone join up? At the very least, a serious GOP campaign for Senate would allow Republicans to put their message and ideas on a statewide stage and challenge Feinstein to do the same.
The voters of California, Republicans, Democrats and independents alike, deserve a chance to see that clash of views.
Journalist and Political Commentator