California Republicans running below-the-radar campaigns for the U.S. Senate have spent months trying to distinguish themselves to prevent being shut out entirely from the fall’s general election.
But their relatively sparse spending has done little to alter the shape of the race, as every public poll has Democrats Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez on the precipice of advancing to a Nov. 8 rematch. The same polls show a third or more voters remain undecided.
Now, an outside group funded by the California GOP’s most devoted benefactor is trying to push one of the three major Republicans into a top-two position.
Charles Munger Jr., the Palo Alto physicist whose father is the business partner of Warren Buffett, initially kicked in more than $50,000 to assist Senate candidate Duf Sundheim, a former state GOP chairman polling in single digits alongside fellow Republicans Tom Del Beccaro and Ron Unz.
A new Super PAC funded by Munger, Californians for Fiscal Responsibility, reports spending nearly $540,000 to date to boost Sundheim and sink Del Beccaro. The mailings focus on Del Beccaro’s record as state GOP chairman, blaming him for electoral, voter registration and funding woes it suffered.
One piece features headlines: “Wasted millions of party dollars. $800 thousand of unpaid bills. Worst election losses in 80 years. Del Beccaro is stripped of his spending authority.”
“Californians deserve to hear the truth about Del Becarro’s leadership,” said Hector Barajas, a spokesman for the group.
California Republicans for years have struggled to retain, let alone attract, voters. The party also has had trouble cultivating deep-pocketed donors, and only recently, under Chairman Jim Brulte, dug out from superminority status in both Houses of the Legislature.
Munger, a major source of funding for Republicans and the state party, appears to be using a similar tact that he took two years ago when, in the final weeks of the campaign, he spent big to help moderate GOP candidate Neel Kashkari finish ahead of his closest and better-known rival, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly.
Del Beccaro has publicly feuded with Munger in the past. They were on opposite sides of the party’s unsuccessful challenge to citizen-drawn Senate districts. Del Beccaro and many partisans from both major parties opposed the state’s top-two primary system while Munger and allies lined up behind the plan.
In an interview, Del Beccaro said he believes the money flowing to push him out of contention ultimately will backfire on the party. Referring to himself as the “only real Republican” running, Del Beccaro said he believes Sundheim is too far out of contention to finish in the second spot.
“I think Charles Munger is the most destructive person in GOP politics, and he would rather have no one in the top two than me,” he said.
“Everything he accuses me of, Duf is worse,” he added. “This is pure vendetta with him. … It’s not about Duf. (Munger) is willing to screw Republicans.”
Sundheim, whose campaign declined comment on the outside spending, has pointed to his role in the recall of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in 2003. A recent supportive mailer to Republican voters says he would grow the economy, support the military, end federal education mandates and oppose high-speed rail.