The three major Republicans mounting uphill candidacies for the U.S. Senate held court in hallways and meeting rooms here Friday, each giving activists, reporters and would-be donors their best arguments on why the party should coalesce around them.
Duf Sundheim, a former state GOP chairman, argued it was his leadership that helped incite the recall of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and the election of Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. He declined to reveal his strategy for breaking away from the pack, so as not to tip off the competition.
“I am used to playing the pundit role,” he said, smiling. “But now I am running a campaign.”
Tom Del Beccaro, also a former party chairman, summoned reporters – and a couple dozen supporters – to the press room where he signed a pledge not to, under any circumstance, vote to raise taxes if elected.
“No new taxes until you balance your own books,” Del Beccaro said, pen in hand, suggesting the issue alone helps set him apart from the others.
Assemblyman Rocky Chávez, a retired Marine colonel from Oceanside, said he wasn’t impressed by the jockeying.
“I don’t see a threat from any of the other Republican candidates,” he said, bluntly.
The Democrats, however, are another matter, Chávez acknowledged.
Kamala Harris, the state attorney general, and Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Orange County lead the field in early polling and fundraising, both by healthy margins. Under the state’s election system, the top two candidates in June will advance to a November 2016 runoff.
To avoid an all-Democratic runoff, something the party faithful views as disastrous, Chávez said it’s in their interest to unify behind him. He cited his unique approach to issues, and his standing as the only elected Republican running.
The bottom line, Chávez said, is he’s the most electable candidate against Harris, or Sanchez, in a general election.
Chávez said he’s talked to Sundheim about the both of them getting in the same room around the holidays and having an “adult conversation” about who is best positioned to represent the GOP brand at the top of the ticket.
“If we are all in there running on our own it’s not going to be good for the party,” he said.
Sundheim seemed to agree.
“I think it’s important that the Republicans do unite around one candidate,” he said. “If it happens to be someone else who breaks through, I clearly will support them.”
Not yet, however.
And Del Beccaro?
“I would have to agree that three Republicans running and splitting the vote is certainly not a recipe to finishing in the top two,” Del Beccaro said. “I think that we need to unify behind a single candidate to have the strongest showing.”
Not surprisingly, he doesn’t believe the others are a good fit. He cited Chávez’s voting record, specifically his refusal to overturn the federal healthcare law and his support for a bill providing state healthcare to low-income unauthorized immigrant children.
Del Beccaro doesn’t believe Sundheim would hold the line on taxes.
His suggestion, albeit a lighthearted one, is to go with the Republican who led the most recent public poll, which didn’t include Sundheim because he wan’t yet a candidate.
The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll had Del Beccaro leading Chávez by 1 percentage point, 10 percent to 9 percent.