Ignore the Right-Wing Media Hype – There’s No Chance Condoleeza Rice Will Be California’s Next Senator

Right wing media outlets were giddy last week after the Field Poll found that, in aggregate, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, now a Stanford professor and fellow at the Hoover Institution, had more support than anyone else who might consider running for the California U.S. Senate seat now held by Democrat Barbara Boxer, who is retiring. Headlines like this in Reuters and other legit sources caused the stir: “Condoleezza Rice Leads Potential 2016 U.S. Senate Hopefuls in California.”

Reuters is, of course, technically correct. Field asked California voters to weigh in on 18 possible candidates to replace Boxer. From the 18 names on the list, 49 percent of respondents chose Rice and 46 percent chose Democrat Kamala Harris, the state Attorney General, who is the only announced candidate so far.

Wow! Rice is winning by 3 points — or at least that’s the way right-wing blogs like Breitbart.com, Tucker Carlson’s Daily Talker and Red Alert Politics spun the poll results. In reality, the suggestion that Condoleeza Rice could win the 2016 Senate race in California is nonsense.

The reason Rice received the most support in the poll is that the California Republican “bench” is not just short, it’s nonexistent. There are no Republican state officeholders — all those offices, from governor and lieutenant governor to secretary of state and insurance commissioner and everything in between, are held by Democrats. The practical effect of this is there is not a single Republican serving in California who has statewide name ID.

In fact, the only Republicans known statewide are a handful among the 17 GOP members of California’s 53-member congressional delegation. Another new Field poll [PDF]found that Congress had an 18 percent job approval rating among Californians overall — 73 percent disapproved — and that just 37 percent said they believed giving Republicans control of Congress last year was a good thing.

Worse still, Republican House members who are well known — Rep. Darrell Issa, a multimillionaire whose past includes allegations of grand-theft auto and arson; House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy; and former Reagan speechwriter, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, for example — are unpopular (and in Issa’s case, reviled) outside their very conservative districts.

By contrast, Democrats on Field’s list of possible candidates included many names that are familiar to Californians who follow politics and watch cable news, including Reps. Loretta Sanchez, Jackie Speier, Adam Schiff and Xavier Becerra and former Reps. Ellen Tauscher and Jane Harmon, as well as Antonio Villaraigosa, the former mayor of Los Angeles (who announced yesterday he will not run) and Alex Padilla, the current California Secretary of State.

The Republicans? A short list of nobodies: Former state Sen. Phil Wyman, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearenging, former Rep. Ernie Konnyu, former California GOP Chairman Tom Del Beccaro, Assemblyman Rocky Chavesz, former state GOP Chair Duf Sundheim.

The only “known” Republican name on the Field poll list was Condoleeza Rice. This gave Rice a huge advantage. Democratic and independent respondents split their preferences among several well-known, popular candidates, while Republicans consolidated behind the only choice they had.

Based on the bogus analysis that she could win the Senate seat, Rice is receiving a lot of pressure to run. She has said that running for Boxer’s seat is “not even a consideration.”

Even if she changes her mind and decides to run, she will not win, and here’s why.

First, Condoleeza Rice has no campaign experience. She has never run for office, and so has never endured the endless cycle of meet-and-greets with voters, town hall talks and candidate debates.

Second, Rice also has no discernible political skills. While she occasionally reveals flashes of humanity in interviews, like when she’s telling a joke and playing the piano, her public persona is stiff, even brittle. It’s impossible to imagine her connecting with Central Valley farmers, rallying high-fivin’ San Diego frat boys or inspiring Orange County evangelicals.

And then there’s the fact that if Condoleeza Rice were to run, she would be forced to defend her abysmal performance as national security adviser and secretary of state for Bush, who presided over the 9/11 attacks and the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the two worst military disasters in U.S. history, the effects of which have been unceasing turmoil in the region including the standing up of ISIS today.

If Jeb Bush prevails in the GOP presidential primaries, it is likely the Bush family would dissuade Condi from running. Having both Bush and Rice on 2016 ballots would make the Bush-Cheney-Rice record an even higher profile target than it will be anyway if Jeb is the nominee.

More definitively, however, the odds against Rice winning in California are formidable, even insurmountable. Republican voter registration is at a historic low — just 28.1 percent are Republicans, while 43.3 percent are Democrats and 28.6 percent are registered independents [PDF].

Last November, Attorney General Harris was reelected with a 15 point margin, 57.5 to 42.5 percent. Even so, her name identification remains relatively low. A new Dornslife/Los Angeles Times poll found that around 40 percent of voters were unfamiliar with Harris, who has been attorney general since 2011.

Still, the trends run strongly in the Democrats’ favor. In the 2010 midterms, a massive tea party wave in which right-wing extremists seized control of state legislatures nationwide and took control of the U.S. House, Sen. Boxer, one of the most liberal members of the Senate, trounced former Silicon Valley CEO Carly Fiorini by 10 percentage points.

The fact that 2016 is a presidential year also bodes well for California Democrats, especially if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee. In the 2008 Democratic primary in California, for example, Clinton beat Barack Obama by 8 points, 51.5 to 43.2 percent.


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