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Guest Contributor
Adam Balling

Adam Balling is a registered, but disgruntled, Democrat living in San Francisco. He publishes Loyal Opposition at

Jones Campaign In Trouble

Has the GOP given up?...

[Adam Balling] 7/12/04

The May 28 Field poll was bad news for Republican Bill Jones and California’s U.S. Senate race. Less than one year after a smashing success in the governor’s recall, Republicans seem to have preemptively surrendered to incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer. Her challenger is now losing in his home district and other Republican constituencies, trailing Boxer statewide 55% to 32%.

Jones lacks name recognition and funds despite being a former State Assembly minority leader and twice elected Secretary of State in 1994 and 1998 before losing the gubernatorial primary in 2002. If the Californian Republicans do not heavily support him soon, they will not only lose the Senate race, but also risk all of the activist momentum of the 2003 recall and perhaps the near future of the party in this state. Neglect during a competitive national election year is self-destructive carelessness.

This early in the race Boxer has an incumbent’s initial advantages. Fresno-based Jones lacks a Bay Area campaign office, and Boxer has none in Central California, but both have a second office in the south: Boxer in Los Angeles, Jones in Orange County. Far from leading in conservative regions at the regrettable cost of abandoning progressive ones, Jones is currently losing in all of them.

Potentially tempting but oversimplified anti-San Francisco rhetoric will make Jones prey to the shibboleth that Republicans are “too extreme” for the state. The suburbs near the major cities are home to most of the centrist swing voters and some of the fiercest political competition. They cannot be neglected, not even in left-liberal Northern California, where one million or so registered Republicans (plus dissenting independents) await deliverance.

As few in the public, in the media or even the GOP have helped or funded Jones’ campaign, he does not deserve all of the blame. Boxer’s war chest of $11 million is roughly six times Jones’ of $1.8 million—cause for immediate alarm, but not resignation.

The Democrat recall losers, Gov. Gray Davis and Lt. Gov Cruz Bustamante, were corrupt centrists. Boxer is worse, a left-wing moralist who proves opportunistic and pliant in crises.

In foreign policy, Boxer postures vainly. She chaired the Senate Terrorism subcommittee prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks, only to later plead ignorantly on CNN “we didn’t even know we had an enemy.” Boxer endorses relatively toothless measures like the Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act and pork barrel domestic security jobs, but is derelict toward duties in Iraq and defense funding. Her record has plenty to offend the properly courted swing voter.

Ostensibly a supporter of the death penalty since 1985, Boxer was slow to confront District Attorney Kamala Harris over the prosecution of David Hill, alleged murderer of SFPD Officer Isaac Espinoza. She waited until after Jones, Senator Dianne Feinstein, and other Democrats before issuing a bandwagon statement criticizing Harris’ dubious but sincere decision to refrain from seeking capital punishment. Law enforcement is a matter of principle, as both Harris and her other opponents understand, and even in a democracy it is not a popularity contest.

More importantly, Republicans should know that their party interests are at stake in California and beyond. The nationwide elections will be narrow rather than a landslide, and every contested seat crucial for a Senate with a threadbare majority. Depressed Republican turnout caused by a failing Jones campaign will not help Bush’s chances in California, either. Boxer is also potentially vulnerable to criticisms that more moderate Democrats like Feinstein or Congressmen Tom Lantos are not.

Jones, too, is a prospective powerhouse: while Assembly minority leader he cosponsored the three strikes law, passed when California voters overruled the legislature’s Democrats in a dress rehearsal for the recall. Primarily known as a hardliner on crime, he is also a prudent moderate bipartisan on issues like abortion, the kind of mainstream conservative blend that could galvanize swing voters and true believers alike. Instead of fulfilling the potential of this profile, Jones is now behind Boxer in his home district and other conservative constituencies.

During the recall, a broad center-right coalition converted the public through relentless but measured criticism of (recently re-elected) Davis’ failings. Schwarzenegger and a minority GOP confied to safe districts followed the lead of signature-gathering activists and individual politicians. The refusal of State Senator Tom McClintock or his diehard supporters to withdraw despite Republican worries about splitting the recall movement underscored this lesson: the emerging politics of the twenty first century are a constant dialogue between grassroots and elites.

Internet access has empowered decentralized politics. In 1998, two East Bay progressives founded a tiny e-mail newsletter; now has over 11 million subscribers as the new standard bearer of the Democrat Left. The grassroots and web-propelled Howard Dean candidacy showed that numerically unprecedented small donations could exceed the amount to qualify for matching funds.

The California Republicans, by contrast, are slow to even update their web pages, much less use them to revive mass interest. I signed up as a San Francisco volunteer for the Jones campaign before the latest poll, but have not heard back from them despite their clearly desperate needs. More recently, my local “meet-up” was canceled for lack of three interested voters. Web-silence seems not only timid and disorganized, but in the land of Silicon Valley and dot-commerce is suicidal. The GOP generally and the Jones campaign in particular must change this immediately. Non-partisan conservatives and county committees alike must use the net to rebuild their own networks and act locally as soon as possible.

Given his latent strengths, Jones’ 23-point deficit in the polls is a grave but reversible disappointment. His name recognition is low among the dozen percent of undecided voters, and the recall reminds us that incumbents’ leads are vulnerable. With concerted effort, Californians can channel their energy from gubernatorial victory to a senatorial upset.

It has taken fewer than nine months for the Republicans to capitulate. They must retaliate instead. Allowing the state as a whole to become uncompetitive rather than bipartisan would be a disaster. CRO

Adam Balling is a registered, but disgruntled, Democrat living in San Francisco. He publishes Loyal Opposition at




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