Senate 2016: A tale of three GOP chairmen

Two former California Republican Party chairmen, both from the Bay Area, say they’re seriously considering running to succeed U.S. Sen. Barbrara Boxer in 2016 while a third ex-chairman won’t rule it out.

But having been the state GOP’s chief executive might not be the best resume fodder for this or any statewide race.

Tom Del BeccaroTom Del Beccaro, 53, of Lafayette, who chaired the party from 2011 to 2013, was first out of the gate – he had a publicist issue a news release last Thursday, within hours of Boxer’s announcement that she wouldn’t run.

“My first love has been national politics and foreign affairs for decades,” he said during an interview Monday.

“Seats like this don’t come open very often. I want to be part of the debate and I want to make sure our side has a positive image and positive things to say.”

Duf SundheimGeorge “Duf” Sundheim, 62, of Los Altos Hills, who chaired the party from 2003 to 2007, also has floated a trial balloon.

Sundheim said Monday he’s moved by the plight of students in failing schools, and of small businesses lacking access to capital. It’s not a matter of whether we should be in the political left lane or the right lane, he said: “We’re on the wrong road.”

Framing a race like this as Republican versus Democrat or conservative versus liberal won’t work well for the Republican conservatives, he added, but voters would much rather hear about the future versus the status quo. If a candidate can do that, he said, “I think you have a real shot.”

Ron NehringAnd Ron Nehring, 44, of El Cajon, who chaired the party from 2007 to 2011, said Monday he’s “very flattered that people have been talking about me as a potential candidate for the office. … Let’s just leave it at that.” Nehring is the only one of the three who has even sought elected office before: He ran for lieutenant governor last year, finishing 14 percentage points behind incumbent Democrat Gavin Newsom.

Should they run, they could find that having chaired their state party is more liability than asset. Already each has critics within the party who are burning up various social media with reasons they shouldn’t run.

“A necessary (but not sufficient) ingredient for a successful California senate run is the ability to raise tens of millions of dollars for your campaign, and another is significant name recognition,” one state GOP insider said Monday on condition of anonymity. “An ideal candidate would also have been elected to office before, preferable statewide or in a major city.”

“Neither of these two candidates (Sundheim and Del Beccaro) has these necessary qualifications,” the party insider said.

Lots more, after the jump…

Sure, they have contacts among grassroots activists and deep-pocketed donors all over the state. But as chairs, each also made his own enemies within the notoriously fractious party, and so each might have just as hard a time unifying the GOP base as he would wooing independents and Democrats.

When Sundheim took its reins, the California Republican Party was broke; when he left, it was $4.6 million in debt, having spent big with little result in 2006’s elections. Similarly, Del Beccaro left the party with somewhere north of $500,000 in debt. That’s considerable ammunition for potential opponents to question their fiscal responsibility bona fides.

Between the two, Nehring oversaw the retirement of the debts accrued under Sundheim’s leadership. But despite rhetoric about taking the party in new directions to make it attractive to a wider sweep of voters, none of the three seem to have succeeded: California became a state in which no Republicans hold statewide office, and where GOP voter registration has now fallen to a meager 28.1 percent.

Having never held or even run for elected office before, neither Sundheim nor Del Beccaro has much name recognition beyond the party, though both have been trying to change that. Sundheim has been making a name for himself as a television political pundit, notably in 2012 and 2013 as a recurring guest on Current TV’s “The War Room” hosted by former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Del Beccaro has done some broadcast pundtiry as well but also is a prolific commentator through his PoliticalVanguard.com website; his second book, “The Divided Era,” will be published in May.

“Writing about, thinking about these major issues for decades – I don’t come to this with a blank slate, you can go online and see my opinions and thought processes for a long time,” Del Beccaro said Monday, adding his forthcoming book deals with some of the same issues he would raise in a campaign. “I’m going to run a campaign that talks about how to rise above political division.”

But that GOP insider believes this is a fool’s errand for either Sundheim or Del Beccaro.

“Tom should focus on his media career. And Duf was a good leader in better times, when money was flowing freely through the party’s coffers,” this person said. “The pool of candidates who can successfully run and have a chance at winning is tiny, and no former party chairman makes the cut.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.