Rocky Chavez: Can a Latino colonel beat Kamala Harris?

Rocky Chavez: Can a Latino colonel beat Kamala Harris?

chavezThe decision of moderate-conservative Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, R-Oceanside, to explore a run for U.S. Senate in 2016 surprised quite a few people in San Diego County. Chavez appeared poised for a long stretch as an unbeatable, influential GOP state lawmaker defending his district’s interests and likely taking a leadership role in the party caucus.

This surprise wasn’t just prompted by Chavez having an unexpectedly ambitious sense of what his electoral possibilities were. It was also the skepticism that a Republican could win statewide office against a glamorous Democratic figure like state Attorney General Kamala Harris. Over the last 16 years, the only GOP statewide candidates to win were mega-celebrity Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 2003 gubernatorial recall, Schwarzenegger in his 2006 re-election bid, and Steve Poizner in his 2006 run for insurance commissioner against widely disliked Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante.

But Chavez, 63, has an ace in hand that most politicians would die to have. He’s a former colonel in the Marine Corps — a much-decorated 28-year veteran. The hope is that this part of his resume peels away Latino, independent and moderate votes from Democrats. It’s why his press releases now routinely refer to him as “Col. Chavez.”

The last well-credentialed Latino Republican candidate for statewide office was Abel Maldonado, a Santa Maria rancher-turned-politician whom Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger plucked from the state Senate to serve as lieutenant governor after Democrat John Garamendi was elected to the House of Representatives. In November 2010, seven months after the governor finally managed to face down a contentious Assembly and win Maldonado’s confirmation, the moderate GOPer lost his bid for a full four-year term as lieutenant governor to Gavin Newsom.

Newsom trounced Maldonado 50 percent to 39 percent — by 1.1 million votes — in balloting that saw libertarian candidate Pamela J. Brown gather nearly 6 percent support.

Maldonado had a difficult relationship with the state GOP establishment because of his votes for budget deals and his successful push for a “top-two” primary system that reduces the power of both parties. He also doesn’t have big-money backers, which led him to abandon a 2014 bid for governor.

Chavez will need deep-pockets backers

Chavez has much better party relations and a stronger image. It’s easy to see him wooing — or at least making a plausible case to — deep-pockets backers for a campaign against Harris. Without such backers, he will be a huge underdog.

That’s not just because of Democrats’ basic advantage in statewide elections. Harris also seems a much more formidable candidate then she did in her first run for attorney general as San Francisco DA in 2010, when she beat Los Angeles County DA Steve Cooley by 80,000 votes — less than 1 percent. She became a national figure, and not just because of President Obama’s unusual comments about her attractiveness. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, for one example, is a big fan. In 2014, Harris won re-election as attorney general by 1.1 million votes over little-known GOP challenger Ronald Gold.

And she is certain to draw huge funding from big-money interests, only starting with those in San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Hollywood/West Los Angeles. The half African-American, half Indian-American attorney is seen as a potential future vice-presidential nominee for Democrats, at the least.

Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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