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CA17: Republican enters race to unseat Honda

A Republican candidate has entered the race to unseat Rep. Mike Honda in the 17th Congressional District – and that’s potentially bad news for Democratic challenger Ro Khanna.

Ron CohenRon Cohen, 56, of Fremont, filed papers with the Federal Election Commission earlier this month to form a campaign committee. In a brief interview Thursday, Cohen said he’s not yet ready to share his entire platform, but described himself as a fiscal and social conservative who wants to provide a counterpoint to Honda, D-San Jose, and Khanna.

Cohen said he has never sought public office before, as he was too busy building his CPA practice; he’s an international tax partner at Greenstein, Rogoff, Olsen & Co. in Fremont. But having become a grandfather recently, he’s grown more concerned with the nation’s debt.

“I’m getting to the age now that if I’m going to do something, it’s time to do it,” he said. “I checked into it with the Republican party and nobody else seems to be running – it’s a tough district for Republicans, I realize.”

The 17th District – a central swath of Silicon Valley, and the first Asian-American majority district outside Hawaii – is 43 percent Democrat, 19 percent Republican and 33 percent nonpartisan. Republican Vanila Singh got only 17 percent of the vote in last June’s primary, failing to make the “top two” cut and leaving Khanna to challenge Honda in November. Honda defeated Khanna by 3.6 percentage points.

Still, Singh’s presence affected last year’s race. Khanna spent big before the primary, even airing several television ads, in trying to finish a strong second behind Honda and to ensure Singh didn’t peel away too many “anyone but Honda” votes. That left Khanna’s campaign practically broke in the general election campaign’s final weeks.

Once again this year, any Republican votes going to Cohen are more likely to come out of Khanna’s pocket than Honda’s. However, this being Khanna’s second run, he already has far better name recognition and funding than Cohen is likely to be able to muster.

UPDATE @ 3:49 P.M.: Click here for a more complete story, with comments from the Honda and Khanna campaigns.

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Twitter launches $Cashtags for political donations

Twitter launched a new service Tuesday letting users contribute to their favorite political candidates and causes through a tweet.

The micro-blogging social media giant teamed up with its San Francisco neighbor, Square, to set up the new system.

Twitter CashtagCandidates who sign up for an account through Square Cash can tweet a unique URL, or $Cashtag, to request donations from supporters. The tweet will automatically include an image with a “contribute” button, making it easy for anyone to click to donate directly through the tweet.

Donors who see a candidate’s $Cashtag and hit the “contribute” button will be able to select a donation amount and add debit card and FEC-required information. Users then have the option to tweet the candidate’s $Cashtag to their own followers or return to where they were in Twitter.

Twitter also noted Tuesday it has developed tools like country-specific notifications to remind people to register to vote, richer Tweets that make email collection for campaigns easier, and real-time audience tailoring so advertisers can better identify and target relevant conversations.

“By partnering with Square to enable donations through Tweets, and as the 2016 election season heats up, we’ve upgraded these tools through which citizens can raise their voices to champion causes and candidates they support,” Twitter wrote in a blog post.

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Rocky Chávez opens Senate exploratory committee

Assemblyman Rocky Chávez announced Tuesday that he’s forming an exploratory committee for the U.S. Senate seat that Barbara Boxer will vacate in 2016.

Rocky Chávez“Our nation suffers from a lack of clear leadership when it comes to issues of national security and looking out for California families who have seen stagnant wage growth for almost two decades,” Chávez, R-Oceanside, said in a news release. “My story is like that of so many other California families, having worked in the grape fields with my uncle and cousins as a child to seeing one of my own children attend an Ivy League medical school. That’s the American Dream, and it’s what every parent hopes to see for their own children. But if we don’t take steps to protect our nation and help create more opportunities for our children, we risk losing that Dream.”

Chávez, 63, who retired from the U.S. Marine Corps as a colonel, describes himself as a fiscal conservative and social moderate. A former Oceanside city councilman and former acting secretary of the California Department of Veterans Affairs, Chávez was elected to the Assembly in 2012 to represent the 76th District in northern San Diego County. He’s the Legislature’s only Republican Latino. (Ed. note: I shouldn’t have taken Chavez’ biography page as the gospel: Assemblyman Eric Linder, R-Corona, is Latino as well.)

Chávez is the first Republican to take the step of forming an exploratory committee; former state GOP chairmen Tom Del Beccaro of Lafayette and Duf Sundheim of Los Altos Hills have expressed interest in running but haven’t decided yet.

The only person who has declared candidacy so far is California Attorney General Kamala Harris, a Democrat; other Democrats including former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa are considering running too.

California’s Latinos will form a crucial voting bloc in this high-turnout presidential election year, but they tend to break heavily toward Democrats. Chávez seems undaunted.

“My strong history of leadership and compelling personal narrative give me great confidence,” he said. “I believe we can start a movement that will make a real difference in the lives of California families.”

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Poll makes case for Latino U.S. Senate candidate

Having a Latino run to succeed U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer in 2016 would energize California’s pro-Democrat Latino electorate, according to a poll commissioned by the Golden States’s Latino lawmakers.

“One of the goals of the Latino Caucus is to develop avenues that empower the Latino community all across the state of California,” Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, who chairs the California Latino Legislative Caucus, said in a news release. “This survey shows that a viable Latino candidate would generate enthusiasm and increase turnout among Latino voters, which would help Democrats across the board.”

The survey is meant to take air from the sails of Attorney General Kamala Harris, who so far is the only declared candidate in the race. The Latino lawmakers’ poll – conducted Jan. 27-29 by the Garin Hart Yang Research Group among 600 likely voters statewide – found Harris has a strong head start among Democrats.

“But her advantage over her potential opponents is far from overwhelming given that she has been on the statewide ballot TWICE since 2010,” the poll memo concluded. “Given the fluidity that is typical of primary elections and a constituency that has not voted in strong numbers but has the potential to be energized, there is real potential here for a credible Latino candidate.”

Harris has never taken any campaign for granted, campaign manager Brian Brokaw said Tuesday.

“She has won statewide office in California twice since 2010 by assembling a coalition of voters that represents the diversity of the largest state in the country, and that is exactly how she intends to win election to the U.S. Senate,” he said. “As the daughter of immigrants and a champion on so many of the issues facing California’s Latino population — homeowner protections, immigrants’ rights, environmental justice, combating gang crime, fighting elementary school truancy — she looks forward to once again earning the support of the state’s Latino population and representing all Californians in the Senate.”

The poll found that in a four-way hypothetical matchup, Republican Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin got 31 percent of the vote, Harris got 28 percent, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa got 18 percent, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, got 4 percent and 19 percent were undecided. Among Latinos considering that same field, Villaraigosa got 44 percent, Harris got 20 percent, Swearengin got 17 percent, Schiff got 5 percent and 14 percent were undecided.

But that matchup posits only one Latino candidate in the field, while several have expressed interest in running. The poll also found Villaraigosa has 66 percent name recognition while Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Garden Grove, has 46 percent, Secretary of State Alex Padilla has 41 percent and Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Los Angeles, has 25 percent. Harris clocked in at 62 percent name recognition.

Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose, another Latino caucus member, said this race has importance beyond the candidates themselves. “An exciting race can generate enthusiasm among voters that have not been energized in years. We need only look at the last election to see what happens when we had low excitement at the top of the ticket – we had record low-turnout.”

Sure, true. But that was a midterm election in which the governor’s race was a snooze. 2016 will be a presidential election, and while that might be a fait accompli in California – in the Democratic primary if Hillary Clinton has already run away with it in earlier states, and in the general given that California will go to whoever the Democratic nominee is – it undoubtedly will have a much bigger and more diverse turnout than 2014 no matter who’s running for Senate.

Side note for political nerds: Brokaw, Harris’ campaign manager, some years ago had worked for the now-defunct Acosta/Salazar media relations, campaign management and public affairs firm. Roger Salazar’s clients now include the California Latino Legislative Caucus.

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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…
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Susan Bonilla declares state Senate candidacy

Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla officially declared candidacy Tuesday in the special election that will be called to replace Mark DeSaulnier, now a Congressman-elect, in the East Bay’s 7th State Senate District.

Susan Bonilla“I’m running for Senate to continue working for Contra Costa and Alameda residents, families, and small business owners in the Legislature,” Bonilla, D-Concord, said in her news release. “Working with a broad, diverse coalition, I am proud of what we have accomplished; turning a historic budget deficit into a balanced budget with a rainy day fund; revitalizing our economy through job creation and economic development; and reinvesting in our schools. I will continue focusing on these efforts in the State Senate, building coalitions to deliver results for my constituents.”

Both Bonilla and Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, have been widely expected to run in this special election. Both had already created state Senate campaign committees for 2016, when DeSaulnier would’ve been term-limited out. But Rep. George Miller’s retirement after 40 years in the House led to DeSaulnier winning that 11th Congressional District seat this month, leaving his own state Senate seat up for grabs earlier than expected.

The district’s voter registration is 43.5 percent Democrat, 28.6 percent Republican and 22.2 percent nonpartisan.

Republican Mark Meuser, a Walnut Creek attorney who ran unsuccessfully against DeSaulnier in 2012, announced Nov. 7 that he also will run to succeed DeSaulnier. He has not yet reported any fundraising.

Bonilla’s state Senate campaign committee had about $13,700 banked as of mid-October. Her Assembly committee, for the campaign she barely had to run in order to win re-election this month, had about $166,000 banked as of the same time.

Buchanan’s state Senate campaign committee had about $49,700 banked at mid-year, while her Assembly committee had about $30,800. Buchanan was term-limited out of the Assembly this year; Republican Catharine Baker of Dublin beat Democrat Tim Sbranti in the hard-fought election to succeed her.

But the list of candidates might grow larger still.

Orinda Vice Mayor Steve Glazer, a former political adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown who lost the 16th Assembly District primary to Baker and Sbranti, said Tuesday that “a number of community leaders have encouraged me to consider running for this seat and I am giving it some thought.” Glazer, who already had rolled the leftovers from his primary campaign into a new Assembly campaign committee for 2016, has about $102,600 banked there.