Howard Kaloogian is trying to become the first person to win a job thanks to President Bush’s immigration plan for Mexican workers: He hopes his strong opposition to it will earn him California’s GOP Senate nomination on Tuesday.
”The Bush immigration plan is mechanically flawed and morally wrong,” says Kaloogian, a lawyer who previously served three terms in the state legislature. “When you have a broken pipe in your bathroom, you don’t reach for the paper towel–you turn off the water.”
Although the San Diego Republican appears to be a long shot for the Republican nod, last weekend’s state GOP convention invigorated him. “We stole the show,” he says. “I think I’m winning.”
His campaign claims that its own tracking-poll numbers show him surging into second place, behind frontrunner Bill Jones, the former secretary of state. If true, it’s a big improvement over last week, when a survey for the Public Policy Institute of California found Kaloogian attracting just 6 percent of Republican voters, versus 24 percent for Jones and 12 percent for former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin. A fourth candidate, former Los Altos Hills mayor Toni Casey, was at 2 percent.
A Kaloogian victory over Jones would be a big upset–but then this primary season already has seen John Kerry’s moribund presidential bid spring to life at the very last moment. Could it happen again in California for a Republican?
The environment certainly is ripe for a conservative shocker. Following the successful recall of Gray Davis and election of Arnold Schwarzenegger last fall, California Republicans are feeling more upbeat now than at any time in the last decade. What’s more, the Bush immigration plan and San Francisco’s new dalliance with gay marriage have energized conservative voters.
Which is not to say that Bill Jones–a fairly conservative guy himself–won’t also benefit from this environment. Like Kaloogian, he’s pro-life, supports Bush on Iraq, and is critical of the White House immigration proposal. Despite claims to the contrary, Jones has signed the anti-tax pledge offered by Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform.
Yet Kaloogian insists that he’s the purest conservative in the race. Jones, he points out, supported a huge tax hike in 1991 when he was an assemblyman and Pete Wilson was governor. (Marin has even set up a website called taxbilljones.com.) What’s more, Kaloogian has the support of state senator Tom McClintock, the conservative darling who ran for governor last October. “Tom has called his donors, made appearances, and recorded a radio ad for me,” says Kaloogian. “He’s done everything I’ve asked.”
Meanwhile, Jones has the endorsement of Schwarzenegger.
“If we nominate the Bob Dole of California, we’ll lose,” warned Kaloogian in a Los Angeles Times interview.
Jones may be the establishment candidate, but he doesn’t have the support of the White House at this early stage. Four years ago, he revoked his endorsement of George W. Bush to back John McCain in the GOP primaries. The Bush team hasn’t forgotten the snub.
That was a political mistake that may have cost Jones two years ago, when he ran for the GOP nomination for governor and came in third place behind Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan and businessman Bill Simon. Ironically, Jones was probably the strongest candidate the Republicans could have put forward: Riordan was unproven on the state level and Simon went down to defeat in November. At the time, Jones was the only Republican to hold statewide office–demonstrating his ability to win even as other GOPers were losing.
Kaloogian isn’t an error-free candidate himself. Over the weekend, he went after California’s Democratic attorney general Bill Lockyer for not clamping down on San Francisco’s rash of gay marriages. That’s a legitimate line of attack. In pursuing it, however, he suggested that Lockyer, who is married, might be gay. A comment like that, combined with a low-budget campaign that relies heavily on talk-radio interviews, gives his effort an amateur-hour quality. Many Republicans also accuse Kaloogian of trying to take credit for the Davis recall effort when in fact he did very little on its behalf. (See, for instance, this anti-Kaloogian website.)
Kaloogian’s ultimate problem, however, may simply be that nobody’s paying attention–a situation that boosts Jones, who is by far the best-known candidate in the field. There are virtually no television ads for any of the Republican candidates and only Marin has raised more than $1 million. Next Tuesday, most people in the Golden State will focus on other contests, such as the presidential primary. Even Republicans are distracted with ballot initiatives. Schwarzenegger spoke at a Jones fundraiser a few days ago but wouldn’t let the media attend because he wants to keep the public’s eye on referenda affecting the state budget.
And then there’s Sen. Barbara Boxer, the liberal Democrat who awaits an opponent. Republicans thought they could beat her six years ago, but GOP candidate Matt Fong ran a surprisingly weak campaign. This year Boxer is much better positioned for re-election, with $5 million stashed away for November as well as what looks like a healthy lead over whoever wins on Tuesday. Last week’s PPIC poll showed her trouncing an unnamed GOP candidate, 53 percent to 36 percent. With so few people paying attention to the Senate primary contest, the GOP nominee probably won’t get the kind of free-media boost that has been helping Kerry in head-to-head polls against Bush. Moreover, a lot of Republican money will be channeled to states with closer Senate races, such as Alaska, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Oklahoma.
So the prospect of Senator Kaloogian seems remote. Between now and Tuesday, at least, perhaps he can take some comfort in the fact that less than a year ago so did the idea of Governor Schwarzenegger.