By Debra J. Saunders
How near death is the California Republican Party? It’s this bad. Democrats hold every statewide office. Term limits have opened up a few offices; still, no serious Republican plans to run for attorney general, lieutenant governor, treasurer or controller this year. If the lead Democrat for any of those offices were to die in September, there would be no Republican in the race to win in November.
A dead person or a nut job could win such a race.
Right now, two Republicans are fighting over the honor of losing to Gov. Jerry Brown, while a third seems likely to jump into the race. The son of Mexican farmworkers, former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado pushed for the state’s top-two primary, which incurred the wrath of the GOP base. Also, in 2010, he failed to retain the office to which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had appointed him.
As a tea party darling, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly appeals to the GOP base, so he could win the chance to challenge Brown in November.
One reason former George W. Bush Treasury official Neel Kashkari is considering running for governor, spokesman Aaron McLear told me: The GOP needs “a credible candidate at the top of the ticket” who will make Californians “comfortable to vote for Republicans” instead of turning them off.
So the GOP has three candidates, maybe more, itching to fight one another — and no one running against more vulnerable Democrats.
“Treasurer would make more sense” for Kashkari, opined Joel Fox of the conservative blog “Fox&Hounds.”
Termed-out Controller John Chiang is running for treasurer. Assembly Speaker John Perez and Betty Yee reportedly are eying the race for controller. In those races, a Republican could emerge with a place on the November ballot.
Ditto lieutenant governor. And given what incumbent Gavin Newsom has said about the office, a GOP challenger might stand a chance.
California Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte told me he has had “private conversations” with Republicans considering down-ticket races. Also, state Sen. Ted Gaines is running for insurance commissioner, and Pepperdine University’s Pete Peterson is running for secretary of state.
“Without a strong and well-funded top of the ticket, I think a lot of Republicans have done the calculus. It’s just not worth the sweat and tears,” GOP big-foot Rob Stutzman explained.
“That is particularly a shame for the attorney general’s office,” he continued, as he sees Kamala Harris as highly vulnerable.
In 2010, Harris squeaked into office with 46 percent of the vote. Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley came within a point of becoming the only GOP statewide officeholder.
Even with a dearth of GOP hopefuls, everyone I talked to had great things to say about Brulte, even California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton. Brulte, he told me, is “smart enough to focus” on legislative races and local contests his party can win.
The GOP has no bench, said Burton, before he asked me, “Have you ever thought of throwing your hat into the ring?”
Email Debra J. Saunders at firstname.lastname@example.org.