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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

California GOP Poised To Miss Senate and Gubernatorial General Elections

I ran across a poll finding from California and realized the press accounts were missing something big. So I explained it at New York.

[S]hortly before Senator Dianne Feinstein announced she was indeed running for another term, the Public Policy Institute of California released a poll showing that half of the state’s likely voters wanted her to retire.

The sense that the 84-year-old Feinstein might be getting a bit too old, combined with long-simmering lefty hostility to her for being insufficiently progressive, helped draw one of California’s rising Democratic stars, State Senate Majority Leader Kevin de León, into a challenge to the incumbent.

A new PPIC poll indicates that Feinstein’s doing pretty well, leading de León by a robust 46 percent to 17 percent margin among likely voters, with significant leads among virtually every subgroup.

Of perhaps even greater significance, there were no Republican Senate candidates with sufficiently viable campaigns for PPIC to even include them in the poll. With less than a month left before the candidate filing deadline for the June 5 nonpartisan primary, that almost certainly means that for the second election year in a row, Republicans won’t have a candidate for the U.S. Senate in the November general election (under the top-two system, the top two finishers, regardless of party or percentage, advance to the general election).

And while California Republicans do have three candidates for governor this year, that could be two too many for the party to place someone in the general election. The new PPIC poll shows Democrats Gavin Newsom (the lieutenant governor and retiring Governor Jerry Brown’s heir apparent) and Antonio Villaraigosa (former mayor of Los Angeles) dominating a large field with 23 percent and 21 percent, respectively. The top-performing Republican, state legislator Travis Allen, is at 8 percent, and it’s not entirely clear his candidacy will survive recently disclosed allegations of sexual harassment in 2013. The other two Republicans in the race hold a combined 10 percent of the vote.

And while Kevin de León, with a virtually assured general election slot, can console himself with the fact that he will have nine months to make a race of it against Feinstein, it’s soon or never for GOP candidates, actual or potential.

If, as appears likely, there are no Republicans at the top of the ballot for the Senate and gubernatorial races in November, it could have a baleful effect on GOP turnout. And that could be a real problem for Republicans trying to hold onto six endangered U.S. House seats.

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