Republican Assemblyman Rocky Chávez formally entered the contest to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer on Thursday, offering himself as a pragmatic leader focused on strengthening national security, educational opportunities and the state economy.
A retired Marine Corps colonel from Oceanside, he joins Democratic Attorney General Kamala Harris as the only major candidates in the race.
“Our national security is a major concern, with ISIS growing bolder every day,” Chávez said in a statement announcing his candidacy. “If things get worse overseas, who would Californians want representing them in the Senate? A lawyer from San Francisco or a Marine colonel who knows how lives can be protected and understands the importance of keeping America and her allies safe and secure.”
Harris’ spokesman, Brian Brokaw, said the attorney general welcomes Chávez into the race “and believes anyone should run for office if that’s how he or she believes California can be best served.”
The field has been slow to materialize since Boxer earlier this year announced that she would not seek a fifth term in 2016. Democratic Reps. Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles, Adam Schiff of Burbank and Loretta Sanchez of Santa Ana have said they are seriously looking at running.
In addition to Chávez, two former state GOP chairmen are considering campaigns. Chávez has so far declined to handicap other prospective candidates, calling it “a long way to the parade.”
But his résumé and standing as a state legislator make him the most prominent Republican among those weighing bids. A former city councilman in Oceanside, he spent nearly three decades in the Marines and later served as acting secretary to the state Department of Veterans Affairs.
Chávez, 63, describes himself as fiscally conservative and socially moderate. He supports gay marriage and has chided members of his own party for blocking immigration reform. He opposes abortion rights, however, a position he attributes to his Catholic upbringing.
He begins the contest, like most Republicans would, as the underdog. Democrats for years have held all eight statewide offices and both Senate seats in increasingly Democratic California. The GOP trails by 15 percentage points in registered voters, and it will take a unique candidate – and campaign – to convince donors that the party’s fortunes can be reversed.
Should he advance to the general election, Chávez also may have to contend with an upswell of Democratic voters turning out to the polls to elect likely presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton as the nation’s first woman commander in chief.
Chávez plans to focus his energy talking about policies he believes will create jobs and improve the state’s foundering education system.
“I think if I come out there and run a traditional Republican race, it would be a mission impossible,” he said, adding he has no plans to endeavor such an effort.
“Californians want to take their state back,” Chávez said. “Californians are looking for someone who shares their story. My father taught me the value of hard work in the grape fields with my uncles and cousins, which led to my success in the military and desire to give back through public service. I learned about the American Dream from my father, but I’m afraid we risk losing that dream for our children if we can’t get our country back on track.”
Call Christopher Cadelago, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @ccadelago.