Bill Mundell, the only Republican making serious preparations to challenge U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein's bid for reelection, said Tuesday he has decided not to run, leaving the GOP with no clear contender for one of California's top races for 2006.
The move by Mundell, an education software executive, reflects the difficulty Republicans face in finding a strong candidate to challenge the popular Democratic incumbent.
In an interview, Mundell said he was willing to spend several million dollars of his own money on the race, but would have needed to collect much more from donors to mount a viable campaign. He said his conversations with the party's major contributors in California made clear that donors do not plan to put substantial money behind any push to oust Feinstein, and he had no interest in running a "vanity campaign."
Mundell, chief executive of Vidyah Inc., had raised his public profile this year as a major supporter of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Nov. 8 ballot measure to strip state lawmakers of their power to draw district maps for themselves and members of Congress.
Republican campaign consultant Dave Gilliard said the absence of a Republican to run against Feinstein reflects the party's lack of a "strong bench" of candidates -- especially for a race against an incumbent Democrat who has cultivated a moderate image.
"Very few want to take on someone like Dianne Feinstein," he said.
As of the end of September, Feinstein had $5.2 million in the bank for her reelection run. After 13 years in the Senate, Feinstein can easily raise millions more. Given federal limits on campaign donations and the dwindling time left before the election, it will be increasingly difficult for a Republican to raise enough money to mount a credible fight against Feinstein.
With hotly contested Senate races in other states, the national Republican Party appears unlikely to pour resources into the contest in California, which has strongly favored Democrats in recent years. As a result, the GOP's best prospect to challenge Feinstein would more likely be a rich candidate whose personal fortune could bankroll the campaign. Feinstein barely defeated such a candidate in 1994 when she was challenged by then-Rep. Michael Huffington.
"There will obviously be people who want to run," said Feinstein campaign strategist Bill Carrick. "It's just a question of whether there will be anybody credible who wants to run."