February 27, 2004

GOP’S Best Hope Against Boxer Faces Uphill Primary Battle

By Pilar Marrero

Rosario Marín is betting that the California Republican Party is ready to nominate a pro-choice, anti-illegal immigration and anti-tax hike Mexican immigrant to go against Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer in November. After all, Californians just elected a pro-choice immigrant Republican governor.

But Arnold Schwarzenegger, it seems, was another story.

Usually it’s not easy being a moderate Republican in California. You must jump through hoops to court an extremely conservative party base in the primaries, without losing the wide appeal that could make you successful in a statewide race. Marin, a former U.S. Treasurer and mayor of Huntington Park, a city teeming with Latino Democrats who voted for her several times, is finding that out as she vies for her party’s nod.

None of the potential Republican nominees seems likely to win against Boxer in November (polls continue to show her beating each of them), but Marin’s nomination could make it a little harder for the senator who, instead of running against a typical anti-choice white male, would have to battle a pro-choice immigrant woman.

As Marín has said, the “typical anti-choice white male” is what Barbara Boxer has for breakfast. Defeating such a candidate is a cinch for Boxer in California’s political environment.

Most important, Marin could help dilute the extreme right-wing, anti-immigrant image that her party has been burdened with since the mid-1990s.

But Marin is losing in all the polls, and she received no support from the state’s GOP leadership: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former governors George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson are backing traditional conservative former secretary of state Bill Jones, even though Marín has raised nearly $1 million dollars in campaign funds to Jones’ $310,000, according to the latest report.

She also has an impressive list of supporters from grass-roots Republican organizations, more than 50 of them, like the California Congress of Republicans and California Republican League, plus dozens of local elected officials and a quarter of the Republicans in the state assembly, including all five women GOP legislators.

Republican party leadership argues that Bill Jones, who spent more than two decades in public life, first in the assembly and then as secretary of state, will be a better candidate and senator even though party members rejected him in the 2000 gubernatorial primary and he’s more conservative than most Californians.

Fernando Guerra, professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University, says Jones “would be easy prey for Barbara Boxer.” Marín could really give Boxer a run for her money, he says. As a Mexican immigrant she could potentially raise the votes Republicans usually get from Latinos to more than 40 percent.

As Ken Khachigian, Marin’s campaign consultant argues, “If Bill Simon had received 40 percent of California’s Latino vote in 2002, and then won a mere 1 percent more from women, he would be governor today. He got only 24 percent of Latino voters and 37 percent of women voters, according to exit polls. Similarly, in Matt Fong’s 1998 loss to Boxer, he won only 23 percent of Latino voters.”

Khachigian argues that Marín is the only candidate who could easily reach that 40 percent threshold and “combine that with the ability to deprive Boxer of the gender superiority she has enjoyed in elections past.”

Marín, who came with her family to California from Mexico City when she was 14, talks tough on immigration, pledging that “stopping illegal immigration” would be among her top priorities, but also arguing for deep reforms. “More attention must be paid to the core causes of illegal immigration rather than the symptoms, such as drivers’ licenses and proposition 187,” she has said. She proposes to “make” Mexico reform its economy to make it stop sending “its unemployment line to the United States.”

She has also shown her most conservative side, supporting an outright ban on gay marriages and criticizing Jones on his role in passing a tax increase when he was in the legislature, saying she would “never” raise taxes.

Republicans will probably continue the string of losses statewide that has made them the minority in California offices —there are no Republican constitutional officers, except the new governor; Democrats are the majority in both houses of the legislature.

The demographic diversity of the state — a growing Latino vote that, according to the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO), registers 60 percent Democratic, 19 percent independent and only 20 percent Republican — is not going to make it any easier for conservative Anglo Republicans to win statewide.

Candidates like Marin could be the exception. If only they could get through the primaries.

Marrero is metropolitan news editor and political columnist for La Opinión Newspaper in Los Angeles.

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