Millionaire businessman Ron Unz has abruptly ended his campaign for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate after only eight weeks, saying he is unwilling to risk his push for campaign finance reform on an uphill bid to unseat Democrat Dianne Feinstein.
“I am leaving the race to focus all my attention . . . on the campaign finance initiative,” Unz told The Times. “And the reason I am leaving the race is very simply a matter of dollars and cents.”
Unz said he will announce his withdrawal today in Sacramento.
Although wealthy enough to mount a formidable campaign, the 38-year-old software executive pledged to abide by the limits of his March ballot measure to reform campaign financing in California. Under those terms, he could run up to a $6-million race, but he could contribute no more than $600,000 of his own money.
Unz said the recent entry of U.S. Rep. Tom Campbell (R-San Jose) in the Senate race hurt his hopes of GOP financial support to bridge that substantial gap. After Campbell announced his candidacy two weeks ago, Unz said, “the sort of people who had been urging me to get into the race started being much, much more doubtful about whether it was a good idea for me to go ahead with it.”
Unz said he had spent weeks “trying to figure out some way to make it work without putting the campaign finance initiative at too much risk.”
“It’s hard to get Republicans to give you money when you are primarily identified with an initiative [campaign reform] that almost all of them really hate,” Unz said. “And it’s hard to get Democrats to support campaign finance . . . when you are running against someone they like.”
In addition, the architect of Proposition 227, the 1998 ballot measure that ended bilingual education in California, said he is determined to place similar initiatives before voters in New York and Arizona next year.
“I normally juggle a lot of balls in the air,” said the Harvard-educated Unz. “I’ve never juggled this many in the air at the same time.”
Unz won 34% of the GOP primary vote against former Gov. Pete Wilson as a “protest” candidate opposing Wilson’s campaign to end state services for illegal immigrants. Unz had said that against Feinstein he was “running to win.”
But after assessing his prospects, Unz concluded that he had a “very low probability” of success.
“It would be a very difficult race to run with my efforts being simultaneously spread across these initiatives and my candidacy,” Unz said. “It’s a waste of my money. It’s a waste of my political capital. It’s a waste of my credibility.”
His decision instantly changes the race among Republicans to unseat Feinstein by making the moderate Campbell, a well-financed former law professor at Stanford University, the favorite to win the nomination over state Sen. Ray Haynes of Riverside, San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn and Orange County banking consultant J.P. Gough.
Analysts have viewed the GOP race as principally a contest between the two best-known candidates: Unz and Campbell. With Unz out of the picture, the primary figures to be far less bruising to the eventual nominee.
That alone could mean more trouble than many expected for Feinstein, who is favored to win reelection but has not forgotten her 1994 brush with defeat at the hands of another rich Republican, Michael Huffington.
But Unz’s departure also could spare Feinstein politically. His early and vigorous voice against Wilson’s Proposition 187 campaign in 1994 won him plaudits in the Latino community. And he had made it clear that he intended to portray Feinstein as anti-immigrant, as well as point out in the primary that she and Campbell agree on a range of issues, including abortion rights and stronger gun controls.
“It was an incredible temptation for me to run against Feinstein on those issues,” Unz said.