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.


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  1. Richard Rider
    Richard Rider 9 March, 2015, 12:47

    I hope Colonel Chavez runs for U.S. Senate. As an elected RINO Hispanic military officer, he has a reasonable appeal to the left-leaning CA electorate. He might win!

    And the San Diego Padres might win the Super Bowl! Okay, okay — Chavez’s chances are somewhat better — more like the Padres might win the World Series!

    But more important, IF he makes the run, his Assembly seat in a safe Republican district would open, and we could elect a true fiscal conservative in the seat he now occupies.

    It’s a win-win!

    Reply this comment
  2. Ken
    Ken 9 March, 2015, 13:03

    If you call Chavez latino, you have to call Harris black. I’d like to see them duke it out. Bring on the debates.

    Reply this comment
  3. NorCal Libertarian
    NorCal Libertarian 9 March, 2015, 13:46

    Richard: For those of us Northern rural folks who do not know COL Chavez, would you please explain the “RINO” definition you gave him? Is he a RINO in budgeting? Environmentalism? Immigration? Defense? National Security? International Relations? Just because he’s a veteran doesn’t CONFIRM that he’s “American-friendly….I give you veterans John Kerry and Al Gore as two examples.

    Reply this comment
  4. Irene
    Irene 9 March, 2015, 15:18

    My biggest concern is NATIONAL SECURITY. Without it, employment, religion, economy, etc. don’t amount to a hill of beans! I would rather have an experienced Marine Col. defend me and my country than a LAWYER!

    Reply this comment
  5. Bill Gore
    Bill Gore 9 March, 2015, 21:14

    I dislike it when republicans buy into the identity politics trap, as if choosing political leadership has to be like ordering off of a chinese restaurant combo menu, where all identity variables have to be balanced and superficially representative. Maybe, just maybe, Mr. Chavez is inherently qualified for the office irrespective of his race, melanin, culture, gender, sexuality, religion……

    Reply this comment
  6. SkippingDog
    SkippingDog 10 March, 2015, 10:37

    The only realistic response to the title of this fluff piece is “No.”

    Reply this comment

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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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