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Jewish World Review Jan. 15, 2004 / 21 Teves, 5764

Debra J. Saunders

Debra J. Saunders
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Consumer Reports

GOP goes after Boxer | On Friday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will endorse former Secretary of State Bill Jones in the GOP primary race to take on Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. Throw in the endorsements of former governors George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson, and Jones will have won the trifecta of Golden State GOP top-hat nods.

Jones is leading the GOP pack in a new Public Policy Institute of California poll as well. The poll also shows that Boxer may be vulnerable this year: Fewer than 50 percent of likely voters expect to vote for her in November.

Until Schwarzenegger won the recall election, the GOP was tanking. Not a single Republican won statewide office in 2002. President Bush lost the state by 11 points in 2000. Then, last year, Gov. Gray Davis raised the car tax, voters got angry, the recall effort got popular, and Republicans got real and finally voted for someone who could win. Voila, California got a GOP governor.

Can lightning strike twice? The answer may depend on whom GOP voters favor in the March 2 primary.

PPIC pollster Mark Baldassare sees Jones' 17 percent showing among likely voters as "somewhat positive" — but considering that Jones served in statewide office for eight years, he could be doing better. Other top contenders are former Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian (5 percent), former Los Altos Hills Mayor Toni Casey (3 percent) and former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin (2 percent).

Notice the liberal use of the word "former" in the field. It bespeaks an air of desperation that party solons are backing a "former" secretary of state as well. Worse, he's the guy who came in third in the 2002 gubernatorial primary, when he garnered fewer votes than the hapless Bill Simon and the confused Dick Riordan.

"I lost to two millionaires who wrote checks" to their campaigns is the more delicate way Jones put it over the phone Wednesday.

The anointment of Jones, however, also shows that GOP leaders have learned a lesson. In 2002, Jones was the lonely guy of GOP politics. The Bushies had ostracized him for switching his endorsement to John McCain from George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential primary. The best candidate couldn't raise money. He won debates, but no one saw them. The lesser GOP candidate won, which resulted in voters reluctantly backing Davis as the lesser of two evils.

Having learned its lesson, the Bush league has put out the word that good Republicans once again can write checks for Bill Jones. There is now a hush, where there used to be whispers, about whether the White House is privately rooting for Rosario Marin.

That 2-point showing has to hurt Marin. The team running her shop — led by former Reagan speechwriter Ken Khachigian and consultant Kevin Spillane — has spent months selling Marin as "Boxer's worst nightmare." If so, the nightmare appears over.

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As a pro-choice female Latina who came to the United States from Mexico as a teenager, Marin explained by phone, she would take away from Boxer the issue of abortion, the gender card and the immigrant card. "I know what it is to be poor," said Marin.

Last year, the Bushies envisioned Marin as a good prop for Bush running nationwide — a Latina who used to be U.S. treasurer wooing the Latino vote alongside Bush. But that was when they expected the GOP nominee to lose and before Marin showed herself to be a dubious campaigner.

Marin overplayed the Latina card. As Democratic strategist Roger Salazar noted, "I think that Republicans want to have their party be representative of the population as a whole. You want to be like California. The problem is, if you're just recruiting minorities for the sake of politics, people see right through it." Marin's frequent billing as the administration's "highest-ranking Latina" smacked of tokenism.

Ask people why they support Jones, and they point to his integrity, sincerity and character. Even Democrats talk about Jones' solid reputation. People respect Jones.

These are not the first words that pop into mind when people think of Barbara Boxer.

Boxer campaign consultant Roy Behr argues that the senator is running against a group of "formers" because she is a formidable candidate — no matter what her detractors say. The recall was an anomaly that elected a "superstar with moderate positions." The issues, Behr said, are on Boxer's side, even if polls find Bush enjoying an upswing.

"Come November, Bush will lose this state by double-digit numbers," Behr predicted. But if Behr is wrong, Bill Jones, or even a rival Republican, could be California's next U.S. senator.

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© 2003, Creators Syndicate