Iowa Man’s Worldview A Lot Like Trump’s

Iowa Man’s Worldview A Lot Like Trump’s

By Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

DAVENPORT, Iowa — Bruce Goacher, a repo man in a camouflage cap and oil-smudged jacket, praised Donald Trump as he drove his flatbed through Davenport on his way to seize a delinquent borrower’s car.

Trump’s call for barring Muslims from entering the United States may have sparked an international uproar, but it only reinforced Goacher’s support for the Republican Party’s top contender for president.

“He says let’s not bring nobody here until we get to the bottom of it,” Goacher said Tuesday over the rumble of the tow truck’s engine. “I agree 100 percent.”

Men like Goacher are the main reason Trump has sustained his lead in the Republican presidential race for six months. Poll after poll has found that white men with no college degree are among the New York tycoon’s most avid supporters.

As Goacher can attest, recent events — terrorist massacres in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., Syrian refugees pouring into Europe, political clashes in the U.S. over guns and immigration — have only strengthened Trump’s bonds with these voters.

On Saturday, Goacher shook the candidate’s hand at a Davenport campaign rally. He noticed the smooth texture of Trump’s palm.

“He didn’t have to work as hard as I did with my callused hands,” said Goacher, 56. “If a man can become a billionaire without having to work that hard for it, he’s evidently a pretty smart man, money-wise, and the United States has to be run as a business.”

Goacher’s world could hardly be further from Trump’s, with the private jet, the global network of luxury hotels, the trappings of celebrity. Goacher, a lifelong resident of a down-and-out industrial section of this small city on the Mississippi River, once slaughtered hogs at the Oscar Mayer plant.

From the driver’s seat of his tow truck, Goacher points to signs of decline: “That was a gas station. That was Sears. Over here was the A&P. They’re all empty.”

Alpo and Dog Chow are still made at the Nestle Purina factory near the riverbank, but the Oscar Mayer plant will soon be replaced by one that will employ just 475 of its 1,400 workers.

Trump’s gift for showmanship — his stand-up-comedian riffs left his Davenport audience laughing as much as cheering — can obscure his appeals to bigotry.

He has played off voters’ fears “in a very demagogic way” while coming off as a strong leader, said Stu Spencer, who managed Ronald Reagan’s campaign to unseat President Jimmy Carter in 1980.

“They like the way he gets up and says it like it is — just like they talk to each other in the bar,” he said.

To Goacher, Trump’s swagger and blunt talk of a more forceful America offer hope in dangerous and unstable times. He admires Trump’s “no-bull attitude.”

“I think he’s writing all his own stuff, ’cause it’s too off the wall for anybody to write something like that,” he said the day after seeing Trump at Davenport Speedway, where Goacher used to race stock cars.

As for Trump’s agenda, Goacher likes it all, starting with immigration. “He’s not going to deport everybody — just illegals,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with that.” Echoing Trump, he said some were “robbing and killing to survive.”

Goacher mentioned a local company that charges “8, 10 grand” to replace a roof. “OK, there’s a boatload of Mexicans come by, and you can get it done for 2 or 3 grand. They’re not from here. That’s hurting the businessperson that’s here.”

As a successful owner of a tow truck company, Goacher sees some of himself in the former star of The Apprentice. When repossessing a car, it’s best to dodge contact with the owner, Goacher explained. But when it’s unavoidable, the ability to size people up quickly is essential.

“It’s either that or get screwed,” he said. “I can look at somebody, in 30 seconds of talking to them, I can tell you whether they’re a con … or they’re a pretty decent person.”

Trump, he said, uses a similar talent on a grander scale. “He thinks a lot like me.”

Goacher, a relaxed but fast-talking man whose pace picks up when he’s on a repo job, grew up in a more prosperous Davenport. His father, a World War II fighter pilot, made a living painting military equipment at the Rock Island Arsenal, just across the Mississippi. His dad also ran a gas station.

When Goacher finished high school in 1977, he had a shot at jobs at Caterpillar and John Deere, but chose Oscar Mayer, where he stayed for nearly four years.

Davenport’s economic troubles turned severe during the Carter and Reagan eras. Thousands of jobs vanished and the population dwindled as International Harvester, Farmall Works, J.I. Case, Caterpillar and others shut down plants in the region.

Goacher’s passion is cars. He owns a few hundred, many of them acquired in towing deals. Some are rusty wrecks with flat tires. Others are pristine classics, including a 1949 Rock Island county sheriff’s squad car. Goacher bought his first tow truck when he was 18.

As crime rose and property values dropped on Davenport’s west end, Goacher acquired cheap real estate, including a shack once known as Skipper’s Popcorn Palace. Goacher bought it from the estate of an old friend, a chiropractor who’d turned it into a taco stand after doing time for murdering his wife.

A couple things stuck in Goacher’s mind after Trump’s rally. One was the candidate’s vow to build a wall along the U-S.-Mexico border that would be a foot taller than the Great Wall of China. (“Mine’s big,” Trump told the crowd.)

The other was Trump’s statement — four times for emphasis — that Hillary Clinton lacks the strength and stamina to be president. Goacher retold the story almost word for word the next day.

“She does a little campaigning, she goes home, she sleeps for three days, puts her pantsuit back on, and goes again,” Goacher said.

He stopped his tow truck to chat with a friend, Darrel Beauchamp, a former crane operator at a Pillsbury baked goods dock on the river.

“Did you go and see Trump yesterday?” Beauchamp asked from the cab of his pickup.

“Yep, I was right up next to him,” Goacher replied.

“I stood there about three hours,” Beauchamp said.

“What did you think? Like him?”

“He’s something else, ain’t he?”

The two laughed. Later, Goacher said he was happy to have “the basics in life” and didn’t need more.

“But you know what? I just want the world to be a little bit better than what it is, and be safe,” he said. “And that’s why I like Trump.”

©2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Bruce Goacher of Davenport, Iowa, hoists a repossessed car onto his tow truck on Dec. 6, 2015 in Bettendorf, Iowa.  (Michael Finnegan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Carson’s Bias Against Muslims Breaks Unwritten Rule Of Using Veiled Language

Carson’s Bias Against Muslims Breaks Unwritten Rule Of Using Veiled Language

By Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

When Republican Ben Carson declared Muslims unfit to be president, he crossed a line that historians say no major White House hopeful has breached since the 1940s — openly expressing prejudice.

Carson is not the first to appeal to voter bias, but he broke with a timeworn tradition of using coded language to avert political backlash.

“I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation,” Carson said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sept. 20. “I absolutely would not agree with that.”

Carson’s disparagement of Muslims came after months of derogatory remarks about women and Mexicans by rival Donald Trump, who nonetheless has remained the front-runner for the party nomination. Carson is in second place, some polls show.

Some Republican leaders, already worried about Trump’s insults, fear that Carson’s denigration of Muslims will further damage the party’s efforts to expand its base beyond older, conservative white voters.

Civil rights groups and some of Carson’s Republican rivals denounced the retired neurosurgeon, but he stands little risk of harm in the primaries. A 2013 survey by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that nearly two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants — a key group for Carson, a Seventh-day Adventist — believe Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence.

Historian Thomas S. Kidd, author of “American Christians and Islam,” said Carson was capitalizing on fear of Muslim terrorists. “But then to turn it into a blanket statement that Muslims in general can’t be full participants in the life of the republic — I do think that’s significant, and it’s alarming,” Kidd said.

Carson campaign manager Barry Bennett said the comments were justified because Islam calls for killing gay people (Muslim clerics say that’s untrue), and that’s incompatible with the Constitution (the Constitution says “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States”).

Bennett also said that Carson, as an African-American, “dramatically expands the appeal of the Republican Party.”

Carson later said on CNN that a Muslim would “have to reject the tenets of Islam” to be president.

Presidential candidates typically take pains to avoid showing religious bias. When Republican Mitt Romney, a Mormon, ran in 2008 and 2012, some evangelical Christians were hostile toward his faith. One of his 2008 opponents, Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister, apologized to Romney for asking a reporter, “Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?”

In 1960, Democrat John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, had to reassure Protestants that he would not take orders from the pope. But his main opponents, Hubert Humphrey in the primaries and Republican Richard Nixon in the general election, avoided the topic.

“Humphrey certainly didn’t say anything like what Carson said,” Kennedy biographer Robert Dallek recalled. Nixon didn’t need to stoke doubts about Kennedy’s faith because “there were plenty of people who were doing it for him,” he said.

Since World War II, historians say, the most openly prejudiced presidential candidate was Strom Thurmond, whose racism was unvarnished when he ran in 1948 as an independent.

“There’s not enough troops in the Army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches,” the South Carolinian said.

Alabama Gov. George Wallace, then a Democrat, was nearly as direct in his 1963 inaugural speech, pledging “segregation today, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.” But in his 1964 campaign for president, he was more guarded in appealing to whites outside the South at a time when many were uneasy about a new housing discrimination ban that would enable blacks to move into their neighborhoods.

“You may want to sell your house to someone with blue eyes and green teeth, and that’s all right,” he told a Maryland audience. “I don’t object. But you should not be forced to do it.”

After Romney’s loss in 2012, Republicans vowed to work harder to attract minority voters. The Republican National Committee released a scathing postmortem saying that “many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country.”

But Trump and Carson are benefiting from the uneasiness of many working-class whites as the nation becomes more diverse.
Their statements alarm strategist Henry Barbour, a co-author of the RNC report.

“When you say a Muslim’s not fit to be president of the United States, you’re a whole lot more than off message,” he said. “We need to stand on principle, but we don’t need to try to run folks off because they have different backgrounds than some traditional Republicans.”

Photo: U.S. Republican candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks during the Heritage Action for America presidential candidate forum in Greenville, South Carolina September 18, 2015. (REUTERS/Chris Keane)

On Immigration, Trump Takes A Page From Pete Wilson’s 1994 Playbook

On Immigration, Trump Takes A Page From Pete Wilson’s 1994 Playbook

By Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — More than two decades have passed since Republican Gov. Pete Wilson aired a television ad showing Mexicans scurrying across the border as an announcer declared, “They keep coming: 2 million illegal immigrants in California.”

Wilson’s short-term gain — he won both re-election and passage of a ballot measure to deny public services to immigrants in the country illegally — was soon outweighed by a devastating Latino backlash that turned California into a Democratic stronghold.

So there was a flashback quality to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s hourlong denunciation of illegal immigration at a campaign stop Friday in Beverly Hills.

The New York real estate mogul accused Mexico’s leaders of “ripping off the United States” in lopsided trade deals and professed grudging admiration for their “cunning” ways.

“The fact that they’re sending criminals and prisoners into our country, and that our people are stupid enough to put them in jails, or let them roam the street, which is even worse, I have to respect them for it,” Trump said.

He appeared with a group of people who have lost family members in crimes or traffic accidents involving immigrants in the country illegally. “The illegals come in, and the illegals kill their children,” Trump said.

It was jarring rhetoric in a state where politicians for years have avoided striking such a harsh tone on immigration, a touchstone issue not just for the growing ranks of Latino voters, but also Asian-Americans.

Even Republican Tim Donnelly, a former state lawmaker who once led Minuteman border patrols to curb illegal crossings, avoided hard-line rhetoric on immigration last year in his unsuccessful run for governor.

Trump’s approach also runs counter to California Republicans’ turnaround plan, which entails running more Latino, Asian and female candidates to rid the party of its image as a domain of white men with conservative stands on immigration, abortion and other social issues. In Orange County, Republicans won hotly contested state legislative races last year in districts where its candidates were Vietnamese-American and Korean-American.

Trump, who campaigned Saturday in Arizona with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose aggressive tactics against illegal immigration have stirred national controversy, has rebuffed a request by Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus that he “tone it down.”

“I’ve been worried about his remarks and their affect on the Republican brand,” said Ruben Barrales, the president of Grow Elect, a group that seeks to elect Latino Republicans in California. “But the more it continues, I think the more you’re going to see Republicans step up and separate themselves from him.”

Art Torres, a former California Democratic Party chairman, said Trump “can do lasting damage” to Republicans, particularly in such states as Nevada and Colorado, swing states where the 2016 GOP presidential nominee will need to cultivate Latinos.

Through two decades of relentless election defeats, Torres added, Republicans in the state have learned the hard way that rhetoric like Trump’s appeals essentially to “fringe” conservatives in states that have large Latino populations.

“A lot of it is just that — fringe rhetoric,” he said.

Mindy Romero, an expert on voting trends who heads the California Civic Engagement Project at the University of California, Davis, said Republicans in California “should be very concerned” about Trump’s potential to block any party rebound by stirring up reminders of Proposition 187. The 1994 ballot measure would have denied education and other public services to immigrants in the country illegally, but was overturned in court.

“Here in California, when he talks this way, he just ignites a fire,” Romero said. “People are going to react in a very visceral, emotional way.”

Wayne Johnson, a Republican campaign consultant in Sacramento, said Trump appeared to be trying to consolidate a support base in a crowded primary field and keep his poll ratings high enough to ensure a spot in presidential debates.

“I think right now, it’s not about the Republican Party,” he said. “It’s about Trump.”

But if Trump keeps at it, Johnson said, “it could become about the Republican Party.”

Photo: Supporters from The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles cheer as a protester does a mock sweep up of trash with a life-like pinata of Donald Trump inside a trash can outside the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel on July 10, 2015 in Los Angeles. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Boxer’s Exit Opens ‘Door Of Opportunity’

Boxer’s Exit Opens ‘Door Of Opportunity’

By Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Sen. Barbara Boxer’s announcement Thursday that she will not seek re-election put an end to years of frustration on the part of a younger generation of California politicians who can now start elbowing their way upward in the state’s first wide-open U.S. Senate race since 1992.

More than a dozen names quickly surfaced as potential contenders for Boxer’s seat in the 2016 election, chief among them state Attorney Gen. Kamala Harris and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

California’s strongly Democratic tilt makes it likely that the party will hold the seat, but not without a fierce contest among those whose Senate ambitions have long been thwarted by Boxer and fellow Democratic incumbent Dianne Feinstein.

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand among Democratic officeholders for opportunities to advance their careers,” said Parke Skelton, a Democratic strategist. “This is like a keystone coming out of the bridge.”

Boxer, 74, and Feinstein, 81, captured California’s Senate seats in the 1992 “year of the woman” election.

While speculation focused most on Harris, 50, and Newsom, 47, neither offered immediate clues to their intentions. Both are also weighing a potential 2018 campaign to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown.

With the exception of a few would-be candidates who took themselves out of the running — such as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti — Thursday was a day to publicly celebrate Boxer and to privately begin a furious effort to analyze the possibilities.

One key question was who could come up with the tens of millions of dollars needed to run a viable Senate campaign in a state as vast as California. Strict federal fundraising limits make it hard even for big-name politicians to build a large war chest in less than two years.

That gives at least some edge to wealthy contenders who can dip into personal fortunes. Former state Controller Steve Westly, a Democrat, has been itching to return to elected office after losing a 2006 governor’s race in which he spent millions of dollars he earned as an early eBay executive.

Tom Steyer, the San Francisco Bay Area hedge fund billionaire who has poured tens of millions of dollars into Democratic campaigns as part of his fight against global warming, is also weighing a Senate run. As a rookie candidate, he would face the danger of stumbling — at great personal expense — the way wealthy but losing gubernatorial contenders Meg Whitman did in 2010 and Al Checchi did in 1998.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is often mentioned as a potential Senate candidate. But like Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor, he has openly stated his preference for an executive job, the one Brown will hold for the next four years.

For Republicans, Boxer’s seat would be one of the toughest in the nation to win, particularly because it coincides with the Democratic advantage of high voter turnout in a presidential election.

Banker Neel Kashkari, Brown’s GOP challenger in November, and two Republican mayors, Kevin Faulconer of San Diego and Ashley Swearengin of Fresno, signaled Thursday that they were not inclined to run.

And the state’s most powerful Republican, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, is unlikely to leave his leadership post for an effort to become California’s junior senator.

But former state Republican Chairman Duf Sundheim, a Bay Area court mediator, said he was “seriously exploring the possibility of running.”

State GOP Chairman Jim Brulte recalled the party’s failure to unseat Boxer and Feinstein in one election after another. “But this opens the door of opportunity,” he said. “We will see if we can take advantage of it.”

Still, there is a remote chance that Republicans could benefit from California’s new “top two” primary system. Candidates who finish first and second in the primary — regardless of party — compete in a November runoff. The nightmare scenario for Democrats would be to have so many candidates on the ballot that they splinter the primary vote and two Republicans wind up facing off in November.

“You can’t rule that out,” said political scientist Bruce Cain of Stanford University.

But it was also possible — perhaps more probable — that two Democrats could make their way to the general election, prompting the sort of internal bloodletting that marked some congressional contests last year.

Many of those eyeing Boxer’s job are among the 53 Californians in the U.S. House of Representatives. Leading names circulating on Capitol Hill include Democratic Reps. Xavier Becerra, Jackie Speier, John Garamendi and Adam Schiff.

In Sacramento, statewide elected officials were pondering the attraction of representing the nation’s most populous state in the Senate. For some Democrats, such as newly elected Secretary of State Alex Padilla and state Treasurer John Chiang, an inevitable question was how it might appear to be seen coveting a new post just days after taking office.

“It’s pretty hard for those folks on Monday to say, ‘I’m so proud to have been sworn in as such and such,’ and on Thursday to say, ‘Now I’m running for Senate,’ ” said Roy Behr, a former Boxer campaign adviser. “This race may take a while to take shape because of that.”

But after Boxer, Feinstein and Brown, who is 76, stood in the way for so long, the sudden opening of one of the state’s top jobs was nothing if not tantalizing. Feinstein has not yet said whether she plans to seek re-election in 2018, but Brown is barred by term limits from seeking another term.

“There’s obviously a whole generation of younger, very talented politicians waiting to make their mark,” said Democratic pollster Paul Maslin. “And this is their first opportunity to do it.”

Boxer said she felt no obligation to step aside for the many younger California politicians eagerly awaiting a chance of upward mobility.

“Am I stepping aside to hand the torch to a new generation? No, I am not,” Boxer said in a phone call with reporters. “I don’t believe in ageism.”

(Staff writers Mark Z. Barabak, Evan Halper, Lisa Mascaro, Seema Mehta and Michael A. Memoli contributed to this article. Barabak reported from San Francisco, Mehta from Los Angeles, and Halper, Mascaro and Memoli from Washington.)

Photo:  Steve Rhodes via Flickr

California Democrats Sign Up Thousands Of New Voters, But Will They Cast Ballots?

California Democrats Sign Up Thousands Of New Voters, But Will They Cast Ballots?

By Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Democrats in California have signed up tens of thousands of new voters in recent months, but a big question in Tuesday’s election is whether enough of them will cast ballots to stave off erosion of the party’s dominance in the state.

The new voters, many of them Latino or Asian, are heavily concentrated in fiercely contested legislative districts in Orange and Ventura counties, the South Bay area of Los Angeles, and the Antelope and San Joaquin valleys. Fearing that a national election climate favoring Republicans could cost them legislative seats, Democrats dispatched hundreds of troops to register new voters in those areas.

Adding to Democrats’ worries have been a lackluster governor’s race and a menu of less-than-alluring ballot measures, all but ensuring a low-turnout election — which typically draws a disproportionately large share of older white voters who lean Republican.

“There’s nothing sexy on the ballot,” said Sergio Carrillo, an adviser to Democrat Tony Mendoza in his pitched battle for an eastern Los Angeles County state Senate seat that would normally be out of reach for Republicans.

Most Democrats running for statewide office — Gov. Jerry Brown, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Kamala Harris among them — appear to have little to fear Tuesday, polls show. The party’s secretary of state candidate, state Sen. Alex Padilla of Pacoima, is the one who appears to face the most serious challenge from a Republican rival, Pepperdine University think tank director Pete Peterson.

Democrats are also certain to maintain a strong majority of the state’s congressional delegation, although a few of the most hard-fought U.S. House races in the country are in California. Voters in San Diego, Ventura and Sacramento counties have been swamped by mail and other advertising in those contests.

But Republicans are all but sure to maintain their House majority; the question is by how big a margin.

The stakes are arguably higher in the California Legislature. Democrats are trying to regain their two-thirds supermajority in the Senate and maintain the one they have in the Assembly. A supermajority enables Democrats to raise taxes and put some ballot measures before voters with no Republican support, among other things.

Republicans acknowledge the Democrats’ heavy investment in registration drives could prove a formidable threat Tuesday — but not if the new voters don’t bother to cast ballots.

“The biggest obstacle for them remains: Can they get those new voters to the polls?” said Peter DeMarco, a spokesman for state Senate Republican leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Most voters, though, are likely to cast their ballots by mail. Republicans are encouraged that in some key districts, GOP voters are returning their mail ballots at a higher rate than Democrats — despite the surge in newly registered Democrats.

“It doesn’t appear that they’re voting,” GOP consultant Matt Rexroad said, referring to information posted daily by Political Data, a nonpartisan firm that tracks voting patterns.

In the state Senate race pitting Mendoza against Downey Mayor Mario Guerra, a Republican, volunteers on both sides fanned out across the district Monday, placing fliers on doorknobs.

“People have made their decisions,” Guerra said. “Now it’s getting them out to vote.”

Some high-profile local contests are taking place Tuesday, but none with the capacity to attract large numbers of voters.

In Los Angeles County, corruption scandals have produced spirited contests for sheriff and county assessor. And the $9.5 million contest to succeed Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who is retiring, has shaped up as a labor versus business duel between former state lawmaker Sheila Kuehl, the union favorite, and onetime Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver.

Statewide, TV advertising has focused mainly on the contest for state schools superintendent and Propositions 45 and 46, both health care and insurance measures.

Contests for governor or U.S. Senate normally inspire relatively high turnout in statewide elections in non-presidential years. But Brown is so heavily favored for re-election over GOP rival Neel Kashkari that he has declined to run TV ads asking for support, sticking instead to spots urging voters to pass Propositions 1 and 2, a water bond measure and budget savings package, respectively.

As a whole, said Political Data Vice President Paul Mitchell, it’s not the kind of ballot likely to spark the enthusiasm of many voters.

“They’re not waking up in the morning thinking, ‘I wonder what’s going to happen in the superintendent of public instruction race,’ ” Mitchell said.

For Democrats, a key task — now that it’s too late to post ballots in the mail and be sure they arrive before the Tuesday deadline — is to watch that voters drop off absentee ballots at polling places instead.

“You do three-fourths of the job by registering someone, but you definitely have to make sure they understand how to vote,” said Kathy Bowler, a Democratic operative who oversaw some of the party’s voter signup work.

Since the last gubernatorial election four years ago, the registration drive helped add more than 88,000 Democrats to the voter rolls, while the number of Republicans dropped by 350,000. But nearly 647,000 other new voters declined to state a preference for any party.

Photo via Amy The Nurse via Flickr

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Neel Kashkari Faces 20-point Deficit Leading Up To Debate With California Gov. Jerry Brown

Neel Kashkari Faces 20-point Deficit Leading Up To Debate With California Gov. Jerry Brown

By Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles Times

After months of struggling to disrupt California Gov. Jerry Brown’s widely presumed glide to re-election, Republican Neel Kashkari will have a chance to shift the dynamics of the lopsided contest Thursday in the candidates’ first and only debate.

The televised one-hour encounter in Sacramento gives the novice Laguna Beach candidate an opportunity to introduce himself to millions who know little or nothing about him and to challenge Brown’s portrayal of a California on the rebound.

“He needs a major win, a major headline or a major Brown faux-pas, or something that would attract voter attention to the race that isn’t there right now,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll. “He needs to introduce some new element that voters haven’t thought of in evaluating Brown.”

With polls showing the Democratic incumbent running about 20 points ahead, Brown has all but ignored Kashkari, a former assistant U.S. Treasury secretary who oversaw the federal bank bailout. Kashkari, 41, also is a former Goldman Sachs investment banker who once was an aerospace engineer.

Brown, 76, who was first elected governor 40 years ago, is seeking an unprecedented fourth term to cap a tortuous career that included stints as California secretary of state, state Democratic chairman, Oakland mayor and state attorney general, along with three unsuccessful runs for president and one for U.S. Senate.

Kashkari, who has raised too little money for extensive TV advertising, demanded as many as 10 debates, but Brown agreed to just one, according to his campaign spokesman, Dan Newman.

It will take place in a TV studio near the state Capitol. The sponsors are the Los Angeles Times, KQED public radio and television, Telemundo, and the California Channel.

The debate will be carried live at 7 p.m. PDT on C-SPAN, 30 NPR radio affiliates across the state, major PBS television stations, the California Channel, and in Spanish on Telemundo stations.

The moderator will be John Myers, KQED’s state politics and government editor. The other journalists on the panel are Jim Newton, editor-at-large of the Times, and Dunia Elvir, morning news anchor of Telemundo’s KVEA-52 in Los Angeles.

Aides to the candidates declined to discuss debate preparations and hewed to the custom of trying to lower expectations.

“The fact of the matter is the governor’s been debating since before Neel was born, and this is Neel’s first debate,” Kashkari campaign manager Pat Melton said.

Kashkari, he said, is likely to argue that rampant poverty and unemployment, along with substandard public schools, belie Brown’s narrative of a California comeback.

“California is not back, and it’s time for real leadership,” Melton said.

Newman called Kashkari “a nattering nabob of negativism” who favors stunts over substance. The governor, a onetime Jesuit seminarian prone to occasional bursts of Latin, might debate in iambic pentameter, he joked.

“It can be challenging to talk in short sound bites when you know as much as he knows,” Newman said.

With just more than a month left until voting by mail begins, Kashkari has little time to shift public opinion. A Public Policy Institute of California poll in July found 52 percent of likely voters favoring Brown’s re-election and 33 percent backing Kashkari.

Brown was supported by 80 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of independents, along with 18 percent of Republicans. In a state where just 28 percent of voters are Republican, those numbers reflect a fierce headwind for Kashkari. Nearly a third of Republicans approved of Brown’s job performance, the poll found.

Most daunting for Kashkari is his inability to communicate directly with voters through TV ads. The campaigns’ most recent filings with the state showed Brown with $22.4 million on hand at the end of June, while Kashkari — who unlike Brown had to wage a competitive primary campaign — had just $198,000.

Photo via WikiCommons

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Tuesday’s Primary Will Be A Test Of California’s ‘Top-Two’ System

Tuesday’s Primary Will Be A Test Of California’s ‘Top-Two’ System

By Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Millions of Californians will cast ballots in races for governor and hundreds of other public offices Tuesday in the first full-scale test of a new primary system aimed at curbing entrenched partisanship in state politics.

In contests for statewide office, Congress and the Legislature, candidates who finish first and second — regardless of party — will compete in a November runoff.

Modeled after nonpartisan local elections, the “top-two” system was approved by voters four years ago. Exasperated by chronic gridlock in Sacramento and Washington, voters ignored pleas of the two major parties to keep California’s partisan primaries intact.

In Los Angeles, the exit of local political fixtures Henry Waxman and Zev Yaroslavsky has sparked fierce contests to succeed them in the U.S. House of Representatives and on the county Board of Supervisors, respectively.

And corruption scandals have enlivened crowded races for Los Angeles County sheriff and assessor. Corruption is also a major theme in legislative campaigns, with candidates jostling to be seen as outsiders in a year when three state senators have been fighting criminal charges.

For Democrats, a top election goal this year is to regain the two-thirds supermajority they lost in the state Senate when the three lawmakers were suspended, and to preserve the one they maintain in the Assembly.

It’s a sign of how far Republicans have fallen out of favor in California that their No. 1 objective is to keep Democrats from achieving, once again, the full-blown lockout from state policymaking that a legislative supermajority can bring. Republicans are also fighting to keep Democrats from maintaining their hold on statewide elective offices.

In the governor’s race, the popularity of Democratic incumbent Jerry Brown all but guarantees him a spot on the November ballot as he seeks a historic fourth term — four decades after he won his first.

Battling for second place are Republicans Tim Donnelly, a state assemblyman from the outskirts of Lake Arrowhead, and Neel Kashkari of Laguna Beach, a former top U.S. Treasury official. It is one of many GOP primaries across the nation this season pitting tea party candidates such as Donnelly against those, such as Kashkari, backed by the party’s business establishment.

For both Republicans, Brown’s secure perch has made it tough to raise the kind of money needed to pay for advertising on a scale that can grabs voters’ attention in California, making this the state’s lowest-profile gubernatorial primary in decades.

“There is a definite lack of buzz,” said Roy Behr, a veteran Democratic strategist.

California’s strongly Democratic tilt makes re-election a small challenge for many of the party’s incumbents, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Kamala Harris and Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. State Controller John Chiang has drawn minimal opposition in his bid to switch to the state treasurer’s job.

But the race to succeed Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who is barred by term limits from seeking re-election, is a free-for-all, with eight candidates on the ballot. Among them is state Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco, who stopped campaigning after his indictment in a lurid arms trafficking and bribery case.

In the controller’s race, a north-south battle among Democrats has erupted, with Assembly Speaker John A. Perez of Los Angeles facing Betty Yee, a San Francisco Bay Area member of the state Board of Equalization, among other candidates. Also in the running is Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican touted by GOP leaders as one of the party’s best prospects for recapturing statewide office.

Polls open at 7 a.m. PDT and close at 8 p.m. But most California voters have shed their habit of casting ballots at polling places on Election Day. In the gubernatorial primary four years ago, 58 percent mailed in their ballots, a share that’s likely to grow still bigger this time.

“That’s a very safe assumption,” said Cathy Darling Allen, president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials.

All signs point to low turnout. Election analysts expect roughly 7 in 10 of the state’s nearly 18 million voters to skip the primary.

Adding to the somnolence is the lack of any high-profile ballot measure fights. Under a 2011 law, only measures placed on the ballot by the Legislature can be put to a statewide vote in primaries; citizen initiatives are now relegated to November general elections.

Lawmakers put two measures on Tuesday’s ballot. Proposition 41 is a bond measure for veterans housing. Proposition 42 would require local governments to bear the cost of complying with the state’s public records law.

In congressional and legislative races, the top-two system took effect two years ago. Its effect on governing is not yet clear. But it has already scrambled primary politics, forcing candidates to try to appeal to a wide range of voters. Independent and minor-party voters are in play.

And in some cases, candidates from the same party — or from no party at all — could make it to the general election.

“It’s just a kind of a crazy Wild West situation going on in some of these districts,” said Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data, a nonpartisan firm that tracks voting patterns.

A prime example is the brawl over the West Los Angeles congressional seat that Waxman has occupied for nearly 40 years. The primary ballot offers voters a choice of 18 would-be successors — 10 Democrats, three Republicans and five others.

Justin Brockie/ Flickr California Capitol

California Republicans Say Democrats Harris, Newsom Looking Ahead To 2018

California Republicans Say Democrats Harris, Newsom Looking Ahead To 2018

By Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Republicans trying to unseat California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Kamala Harris share a common complaint: The two Democrats are so confident of re-election that they’re already laying ground to run for governor in 2018.

“She’s looking right past us,” David King, a Harris challenger, told a recent gathering of Republican women in Thousand Oaks.

Newsom and Harris, two of the best-known Democrats on the June 3 ballot, insist they’re taking nothing for granted.

Both deny they’re focused on 2018.

But the weak standing of their Republican challengers, all of them far behind in both fundraising and name recognition, is emblematic of this year’s lopsided and low-key California elections, with Democrats well-positioned to keep their grip on every statewide office.

It has also fueled speculation about whether a clash between Newsom, 46, and Harris, 49, the leading San Francisco politicians of their generation, is inevitable.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that they’re on a collision course for running for governor in 2018,” said Garry South, a former Newsom consultant who was chief political strategist for former Governor Gray Davis.

Much can change in California’s election climate over the next four years. Among the biggest unknowns: Will Senator Barbara Boxer, 73, seek re-election in 2016, and will Senator Dianne Feinstein, 80, run for another term in 2018?

If either Senate seat opens up, the calculus could shift for Newsom, Harris, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other Democrats weighing a run for governor.

For now, Newsom and Harris appear minimally engaged in the June 3 primary, apart from raising money that — if they don’t need it this year — can be rolled into a 2018 campaign.

“It seems remarkably quiet,” Newsom said. “It’s surreal.”

The torpor is due largely to the state’s highest-profile contest. No Republican or member of any other party, so far, is posing a serious threat to Governor Jerry Brown. In the most recent Field poll, the Democrat was running a staggering 40 percentage points ahead of his top challenger, Republican Assemblyman Tim Donnelly of Twin Peaks, a tea party favorite.

Nationally, Republicans are in relatively strong shape as they try to recapture the U.S. Senate in a year when President Barack Obama’s popularity is low. But in California, the huge fundraising lead that Newsom and Harris have each established over Republican rivals underscores how hard it is to bounce a Democrat from statewide office in the deeply blue state.

In March, when the most recent complete fundraising reports were filed, Newsom showed $1.9 million in cash on hand, and Harris $3.2 million.

Since then, labor unions, lawyers, Silicon Valley executives, hedge fund managers and others have given an additional $171,000 to Newsom and $400,000 to Harris.

For Harris’ four Republican challengers, money has been harder to get. They reported a total of zero cash on hand in March. Two of Newsom’s were also empty-handed; the third had $62 in the bank.

Since then, the seven Republicans combined have reported raising just over $31,000, making it close to impossible for any of them — or for the six others on the ballot for attorney general or lieutenant governor — to mount a viable campaign in a state with nearly 18 million voters.

But they’re trying to make do.

At the Thousand Oaks golf club gathering, King and another Republican Harris opponent, former state Senator Phil Wyman of Tehachapi, took turns bashing the attorney general’s record in remarks to members of Conejo Valley Republican Women Federated.

Wyman reminded the crowd of his proposal to punish elected officials convicted in corruption cases involving gun violence with execution by public hanging, firing squad or lethal injection.

“That’s what I stand for, the rule of law,” he told the group.

King, a San Diego attorney active in local Republican politics, rolled his eyes when asked about Wyman’s long-shot candidacy. As for his own, he said: “I jumped in because we don’t have a credible candidate, and I don’t believe in surrendering a state.”

Former state Republican chairman Ron Nehring offered a similar rationale for his own candidacy for lieutenant governor.

“Gavin Newsom treats this office like it is a taxpayer-funded gubernatorial exploratory committee for 2018, and everybody knows that,” said Nehring, whose campaign road trip from San Diego to Santa Maria on Wednesday included a dinner stop at Pea Soup Andersen’s in Buellton.

Photo: Amy The Nurse via Flickr
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