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California’s congressional Republicans may prefer Loretta Sanchez for Senate, but they’re staying out of it

U.S. Reps. Loretta Sanchez (D-Orange) and Darrell Issa (R-Vista)
U.S. Reps. Loretta Sanchez (D-Orange) and Darrell Issa (R-Vista) participate in a bipartisan congressional fact-finding tour visiting several military bases and defense industries this month.
(Mark Boster/ Los Angeles Times)

Like a lot of Republicans in California frustrated with a choice of two Democrats in the U.S. Senate race, nearly all of the 14 Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation are sitting this one out.

In the contest between Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris and U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, about two-thirds of Democrats in the delegation have picked a side, but the first statewide race between two members of the same party has left some Republicans on the sidelines.

“I have no preference,” Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Elk Grove) said. “They’re both bad.”

“[I’ve] not even thought about it,” Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) said, adding that he hasn’t been asked for his support either.

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Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) is the only Republican in the delegation to outright endorse in the race, saying earlier this month that he respects Sanchez’s knowledge of military and world affairs.

California Democrats trying to keep Senate race from becoming awkward »

Sanchez is working to build support among California Republicans and independents. She’s earned endorsements from former Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) and former Republican Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.

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Republicans and independents are poised to play a key role in the race — if they get involved, that is, and Sanchez has made a pivot toward the right in recent weeks.

The effort does not appear to be working. A statewide poll conducted for USC Dornsife and The Times this month by SurveyMonkey found 16% of registered voters, mostly self-described Republicans and independents, have decided to skip the first open U.S. Senate race that California has seen in 24 years — the same percentage of voters who favor Sanchez. Support for Harris came in at almost double that level at 30%. 

And more than a third of California voters indicated they still “don’t know” which Senate candidate they’ll pick on Nov. 8, according to the poll.

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale) said he isn’t endorsing in the Senate race but Rep. Loretta Sanchez would be easier to work with.
Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale) said he isn’t endorsing in the Senate race but Rep. Loretta Sanchez would be easier to work with.
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call )

Seventeen of the state’s 39 House Democrats have backed Sanchez, nine have backed Harris, according to the campaigns, and many of the rest said they are staying out of the race entirely. The Democrats have said they’ve tried to keep the situation from becoming awkward with a colleague many have known for decades.

A few Republican members told The Times privately they’ve had informal and friendly conversations with Sanchez, and among themselves, but that doesn’t mean they are ready to give their support to a Democrat.

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale) said he hasn’t been asked for an endorsement, but he’s talked with Sanchez about fairs and festivals in Northern California that she might want to attend to talk to voters.

House Republicans, who make up one-fourth of the state’s 55-member delegation, often say they’ve found it easier to work with Sen. Dianne Feinstein on statewide issues such as water and the environment than with Sen. Barbara Boxer. (Neither senator has endorsed.)

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Sanchez would be “infinitely easier” for Republicans to work with on rural issues he cares about, LaMalfa said. They see eye to eye on Latino farmworkers’ concerns, agriculture and increasing water access to the Central Valley, he said.

“What I think I know of her positions, yeah, there’s lots of crossover possibilities there,” he said. “We’ll find plenty to disagree on, but that’s not really what we’re talking about here.”

He sees Harris as even further left than Boxer on environmental issues, LaMalfa said.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) also said Sanchez is the better choice, but he’s not endorsing.

“Loretta is much, much better,” Hunter said. “She knows national security. In the end that’s the most important thing we do.”

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) said he barely knows the candidates, and he’s staying out of the race.

“One I know, one I don’t,” he said. “And I know Sanchez just because I’ve served in the House, I don’t know Harris.”

Rep. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) said he hasn’t heard fellow Republicans talk about endorsing in the Senate race, but “I’m not.”

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Others aren’t ready to say anything.

“Not at this time,” Rep. Paul Cook (R-Yucca Valley) said with a smile when asked if he plans to endorse. “We’ll see what happens.”

“I think I’ll just go quietly do what I’m going to do and not talk about it,” said Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Corona).

sarah.wire@latimes.com

Follow @sarahdwire on Twitter

Read more about the 55 members of California’s delegation at latimes.com/politics

 

ALSO:

Hurting for support in her own party, Rep. Loretta Sanchez tilts her Senate campaign to the right

Meet the men plotting strategy for California’s U.S. Senate candidates

California Democrats trying to keep Senate race from becoming awkward

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