California Attorney General’s race is a fight for second place

For candidates running to overthrow California Atty. General Rob Bonta, the fight for political survival is now.

California’s primary election rules send only the top two voting candidates to the general election, regardless of political affiliation. As the incumbent and the only Democrat on the ballot, Bonta is expected to emerge from the June 7 primary and head into November with little fanfare. Bonta, whom Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed to the post last year, has been endorsed by the California Democratic Party and has raised more than $5 million for his campaign.

But for the two Republicans and an unaffiliated independent who want to oust the incumbent, the real fight is against each other.

“Rob Bonta, as incumbent, will get the vast majority of Democratic votes. He’s going to be number one,” said Republican campaign manager Christy Wilson.

Among the top contenders for Bonta are California Republican-backed candidate Nathan Hochman, a former assistant U.S. attorney general, and Eric Early, a Los Angeles attorney who is campaigning more politically on the far right. Sacramento District. Atti. Anne Marie Schubert is seeking the office as an unaffiliated independent after dropping her GOP membership in 2018.

The political odds for each of them are complicated.

The ranks of Democratic voters are double those of Californians registered either as Republicans or as “no party preference” voters. While Democrats have achieved a supermajority in both houses of the Legislative Assembly, Republicans have become almost politically irrelevant in Sacramento. And although California voters were told in 2010 that creating the primary system’s “top two” would boost the political fortunes of moderates, no independent candidate has since been elected statewide.

Schubert, 58, is undeterred. Known for her work on the arrest and conviction of the serial killer and rapist known as the Golden State Killer, she has vowed to crack down on criminal activity as attorney general and focus on solutions to a crisis increasing homelessness and drug addiction.

Dozens of law enforcement and corrections organizations support her, along with the majority of California’s 58 district attorneys. Bail companies and groups representing bail bondsmen have taken particular interest in Schubert’s campaign, likely due to his strong opposition to a law Bonta co-authored in 2018 to eliminate cash bail in California.

Schubert raised $2 million, with an average contribution of $1,400, according to state campaign finance records. It has received support from businesses and employees in the agribusiness, real estate, and construction industries, and is backed by several Native American tribes that operate major casinos.

Some of the groups have never contributed to a California political campaign before, according to an analysis by the Los Angeles Times. While most of her financial support comes from donors in Sacramento, she has collected donations from across the state.

Schubert’s independence leaves her without a pre-existing electoral base or party endorsement to promote on the campaign trail. But she seeks to use these loose affiliations to her advantage, proclaiming herself the candidate for Californians who are “fed up with politics.” His prosecution record and tough-on-crime proposals are likely to appeal to Republicans and Democrats alike, said Rob Stutzman, his campaign strategist. Schubert supports more socially liberal issues such as abortion rights and marriage equality, which might also appeal to moderate Democrats.

“The disparity in registrations, I don’t see a Republican being able to do that. This is where Schubert is a unique opportunity,” Stutzman said.

Hochman, on the other hand, sees the numbers stacking up in his favor.

Unaffiliated voters do not reliably vote for candidates “without party preference,” said Matt Rexroad, Hochman’s campaign strategist, while Republicans and Democrats generally support their party’s nominee. The two Republicans – Hochman and Early – could split their party’s vote and create a narrow window for Schubert to exit the primary. But Rexroad said it would need more GOP candidates on the ballot, creating a wider spread of votes, for that strategy to work.

“Anne Marie Schubert could very well finish fourth [in the primary]said Rexroad.

Hochman, 58, presents himself as an established Republican with a resume that stretches from Washington to Los Angeles. He touted his experience as both a prosecutor and defense attorney, as well as his tenure as an assistant U.S. attorney, as evidence of his qualifications for the post of attorney general. Hochman said he would seek to rebalance politics in Sacramento through an approach that falls somewhere between the tough-on-crime policies of decades past and more recent criminal justice reform laws.

Hochman has raised nearly $2.2 million, mostly through large individual donations in the Los Angeles area. The average donation is nearly $2,100 and his candidacy is also supported by an independent committee that has raised a total of over $440,000 through 10 contributions. Contributors to the independent effort include Hochman’s mother as well as real estate investment and financial services companies, as well as people associated with those businesses. The California Republican Party has endorsed Hochman but has not yet contributed or spent any money to support his campaign, according to campaign finance records.

“Voters aren’t necessarily going to look at which party we’re on,” Hochman said. “They’re going to go to whoever they think can basically bring back safety and security and run the attorney general’s office in the most efficient way. I believe the voters concluded that it was me.

Early, 63, has adopted a decidedly ultra-conservative platform. He has promised to do everything he can as attorney general to ‘ban’ critical race theory in California classrooms and said he will investigate school closures during the COVID pandemic. -19. Despite California’s overwhelmingly Democratic electorate, Early unabashedly supports former President Trump, broad gun ownership rights under the 2nd Amendment, and new restrictions on abortion.

He called Hochman and Schubert “resumes” of lawyers and “interchangeable widgets”.

“California residents on all walks of life except the far left are prepared and actually want a tough, strong conservative voice they know and will trust to protect them,” he said. he declares.

Early raised the least amount of money of the three contenders with nearly $600,000, including his own personal funds. But he said he believed a network of local volunteers and donors would help propel him to victory. The vast majority of its fundraising comes from small individual donations spread across the state.

Early said he would welcome Trump’s endorsement, but is not actively seeking it. He is instead relying on other allies, including Larry Elder, the conservative radio host who unsuccessfully ran to replace Newsom on last year’s callback. It’s a strategy that could help Early with Republican voters in the primary, but could backfire in the general election. Newsom painted Elder as a Trump candidate on his way to crushing defeat recall with nearly 62% of the vote.

Bonta supporters seem to have taken note of Early’s positions. In recent weeks, they have produced radio commercials that feature Early as a “true conservativeand “big Trump supporter.”

“Eric Early is a big advocate of the 2nd Amendment, and he’s very pro-life,” says the ad’s narrator.

The ad serves as a lesson in how campaigns use California’s two major primary systems to their advantage, often by elevating a candidate who is easier to beat, said political data scientist Paul Mitchell.

“If you want to be able to float to a victory in November, why not have a Republican against you in California?” Mitchell said.

But Bonta may have its own political vulnerabilities. He spent eight years in the state Assembly backing progressive laws championed by criminal justice reform advocates, which his critics have used to criticize him as evidence he is unwilling to handle. certain high-profile crimes, such as retail theft. Crime is a main problem for voters in this year’s election, according to a UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies survey from April, co-sponsored by The Times.

Most political observers still expect Bonta to win a second term as California attorney general, regardless of his competition. Every attorney general since 1999 has been a Democrat, and Bonta’s mentions include California’s executive leaders.

“I think Bonta is really strong in the statewide campaign,” Mitchell said. “Just the ballot designation, being Attorney General, the poll I saw, Bonta is really strong.”

Los Angeles Times

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