Liberal Repub Joins Race for Nomination Against Boxer

Less than two weeks ago, the shape of the Republican U.S. Senate primary in California changed dramatically when former Rep. and liberal GOPer Tom Campbell announced he would become the third major Republican in the race.  

In abandoning his bid for the GOP nomination for governor, the 57-year-old Campbell joins State Assemblyman Chuck DeVore and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina in the battle for nomination to oppose Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer this November.

At first glance, the seasoned observer of Golden State Republican politics is tempted to shrug and say “Who cares?”  A Stanford University law professor and briefly state finance director under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Campbell represents the left-of-center of the state Republican Party that has been in decline for decades.  He has already made two unsuccessful Senate runs.  In losing nomination for the same Senate seat he now seeks to conservative Bruce Herschensohn in 1992, Campbell took decidedly liberal stands on abortion (his television spots almost always underscored he was the “pro-choice Republican”), gay rights, gun control, and the environment.  He also was for abolishing the Strategic Defense Initiative and for the quota-laden Civil Rights Act of 1991.

And while Campbell touted himself as a strong fiscal conservative, he also attacked Herschensohn’s call for a 19% flat tax as “disastrous.” Campbell’s warning that  “[t]he crash of ’29 would be nothing compared to the crash of ’92” if Herschensohn’s flat tax took effect led to a rebuke from the late economist Milton Friedman, who had been Campbell’s faculty advisor at the University of Chicago.  At the time, Nobel laureate Friedman told me “I cannot agree with that extreme statement.  It’s not a justifiable thing.”  

He Can’t Win, So Who Does He Hurt?

Campbell’s overall record in Congress (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 55%) and his support of Schwarzenegger’s attempt to raise state taxes last year are further proofs that he is just not going to win a primary limited to registered Republicans and “declined to state” voters (those who don’t list a party preference).  There just aren’t enough liberals in that group to give Campbell a plurality against DeVore and Fiorina.

So the question becomes who does Campbell hurt the most of the two candidates who are already in the race?  Jon Fleischman, editor of the much-read on-line political newsletter known as the Flash Report, says “When you look at Campbell’s voting record in Congress and his support of a [state] tax increase, you have to conclude that Chuck DeVore is happier at having him in the race than Carly Fiorina is.”

Does this mean that Fiorina embraces the same non-conservative philosophy as Campbell?  Hardly.  The businesswoman and former John McCain campaign advisor insists she is a conservative on cultural and economic issues and spelled this out for me and a number of colleagues during a breakfast last year hosted by the American Spectator.  But Fiorina left some doubts among conservatives, notably when she told me she would have voted for Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court, and her lack of response on illegal immigration and gas emission legislation enacted by the California legislature.

In contrast, DeVore told me during a recent interview that he has studied Sotomayor’s record and concluded without hesitation he would have opposed her nomination.  He sports a good-as-Goldwater voting record in the state Assembly on issues ranging from the pro-life cause to developing nuclear power in the state (on which the Orange County lawmaker has been the quarterback in the Assembly).  He has worked on campaigns since he was a teenager and knows well most of the conservative players throughout the state GOP (DeVore has already been endorsed by more than 60% of elected Republicans in California and 1992 Senate nominee Herschensohn is his honorary campaign chairman).

Put another way, someone who is inclined to vote for Tom Campbell most likely would have voted for Fiorina rather than DeVore in a two-candidate race.  

Parting Shot:  Any discussion of Chuck DeVore’s chances in the Senate primary inevitably returns to money.  Even friends and supporters of the assemblyman voice questions as to whether he can come up with the funding necessary to compete with Fiorina, who is personally wealthy (although she steadfastly insists she will not deploy her own resources on the race in a big way) and well-connected among fellow business leaders.  

When I raised this with DeVore, he told me that he has raised more than $1 million in small donations, largely through the Internet and other social networking venues.  His hope is to emulate Barack Obama and Massachusetts Senator-elect Scott Brown in becoming enough of an Internet political star to unleash a floodgate on donations nationwide.  Whether DeVore can do just and follow the Obama-Brown path toward cyberspace cash may well be more of a factor than Tom Campbell’s entry into the race in determining whether he can beat Carly Fiorina.