2016 U.S. Senate Race: Can Duf Sundhiem Crack Top 2 Primary?

Duf SundheimIt’s been 27 years since a California Republican has won a campaign for U.S. Senate.

The deck may be stacked against Republicans in California, but Duf Sundheim isn’t discouraged. The former California Republican Party chairman and small business attorney says that his underdog campaign for U.S. Senate is motivated by a desire to give average people “a voice in their government.”

“The people of California are tired of the professional political class of both parties who make promises that they never keep,” Sundheim said. “For over a decade, we have taken on the establishment of both parties and won.”

If Sundheim’s independent message doesn’t sound like the 2016 GOP presidential contenders, that’s because of the unique electoral landscape in California.

Top 2: Only Democratic options

Next year’s U.S. Senate race will be the first such election under California’s Top 2 Primary, which advances the top two primary candidates to the general election regardless of political party. Although Republicans struck out in every statewide race last November, the party succeeded in getting a candidate through the June primary election and onto the November general election ballot for every partisan statewide race. But only barely.

The June 2014 primary for state controller ended in a virtual four-way tie between two Democrats and two Republicans. Most political analysts believe that the Republican candidates, including an unknown candidate that spent $100 on a four-word ballot statement, were aided by the historically low turnout.

It won’t take much for Democrats to improve on those numbers. Historically, voter turnout is higher in presidential election years than in gubernatorial election years. Moreover, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ insurgent challenge to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination could further boost turnout among CA Democrats, who outnumber Republicans by 2.68 million voters.

Early polling show the effects of that favorable electoral landscape for Democrats. A Field Poll of more than 1,000 registered voters taken from September 17 to October 4 found Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez safely in second place to frontrunner Attorney General Kamala Harris. Sundheim and his fellow Republican candidates, Asm. Rocky Chavez and former California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro, managed only single digits.

“Both Harris and Sanchez are better known and are much more favorably regarded among the state’s likely voters than any of the three Republicans,” wrote Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll. “As the election nears, this may create as much interest to who finishes second as to who wins the primary, since it will likely determine whether the fall general election will be a traditional Democrat vs. Republican affair or one that pits two Democrats against one another.”

Builds on Kashkari’s rhetoric

In an effort to prevent an all-Democrat November U.S. Senate showdown, Sundheim has built on the rhetorical foundation laid by 2014 GOP gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari to appeal to independent voters by focusing on jobs and poverty. Sundheim says the state has “suffered and economic earthquake,” which has left millions in poverty.

“We have seen one of the greatest accumulations of wealth in history, but 8.9 million Californians live in poverty,” he said, referring to an issue first raised by Kashkari’s gubernatorial campaign. “There are more people living in poverty in California than there are people in Nevada, Hawaii and Oregon combined.”

He added, “Now the fastest growing path to the middle class is a government job.”

Sundheim has shared this message and his experience as a federal court mediator and volunteer settlement judge beyond the partisan political chicken dinner circuit. The Stanford graduate has a track record of reaching across the aisle and working with Democrats that share his passion for improving the state. In 2012, Sundheim supported Democratic San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed’s pension reform proposals, which were overwhelmingly approved by voters.

Shultz, Chambers Campaign Co-Chairs

In his initial fundraising report, Sundheim announced that he’s raised more than $240,000 — an impressive figure without any loans and only three weeks after his announcement.

“We will have the money we will need not only to compete, but to win,” he said.

Sundheim’s confidence comes with a list of big name endorsements, including former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz and Cisco’s John Chambers.

“I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and working with Duf for two decades, and I’ve seen how much he cares about the future of California and is inclusive of every one of its citizens,” said Chambers. “We need strong, principled leaders in Washington, DC who can bring together people from all political perspectives to craft workable solutions to our country’s most pressing problems. Duf Sundheim is that kind of leader.”

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com