LOS ANGELES (AP) — Thirty-four candidates want to be California’s next U.S. senator, and the long list of contenders could boost the chances of congresswoman Loretta Sanchez in June’s primary election.
Sanchez, an Orange County Democrat, wants to be one of two candidates who advance to a November runoff for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer. Under California’s unusual rules, only the top two vote-getters in June advance to the general election.
State Attorney General Kamala Harris, another Democrat, has held a steady lead in fundraising and polling. With 12 little-known Republicans on the ballot, a fractured GOP vote would make it easier for two Democrats to claim the top spots.
The Republican vote “will be spread all over the place” in a large field, if no strong candidate emerges, Republican consultant Mike Madrid said.
Many voters have yet to focus on the race in a year when presidential politics have dominated headlines.
A Public Policy Institute of California poll last month found the largest group of voters remains undecided — about one in three.
Among Democrats, Harris snagged 26 percent support, with Sanchez at 17 percent. Republicans Tom Del Beccaro and Duf Sundheim, both former state GOP chairmen, were in single digits. Republican Ron Unz, a previous candidate for governor and Senate, entered the race after the survey was completed.
Unz, a theoretical physicist-turned-software developer, said in an email Wednesday that he had donated $50,000 to his campaign.
When voters are unfamiliar with candidates, they can make decisions on factors such as gender, ethnicity or political party. Even a candidate’s spot on the ballot is important — the higher on the list, the better.
“Voters will look for cues for whom to support in a vacuum,” Madrid noted. With scant advertising by candidates so far and a long list of choices “the likelihood of something unexpected happening is very high.”
Democrats are favored to hold the seat in a state where the party controls every statewide office and both chambers of the Legislature.
The list of candidates also includes five other Democrats and 15 candidates from minor political parties or those who listed no political affiliation.
They will appear on a single ballot, and voters can choose any candidate, regardless of party.
Bill Whalen, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, said Republicans would be facing long odds regardless of the large number of candidates. GOP voter registration has fallen below 28 percent in California.
“The problem for Republicans is the die already has been cast,” said Whalen, who was a speechwriter for former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson. “It’s just not going to happen when two or more Republicans are running.”