Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
June 18, 2016 – 2:00 PM

  • Harris vs. Sanchez will be first statewide top-two test
  • What happens will set template for future contests
  • Sanchez hopes Republicans, independents help her

California has had its brief moment of semi-relevance in this year’s wild and woolly presidential contest and Hillary Clinton can now safely count on its 55 electoral votes.

Democrats can also assume that the U.S. Senate seat that Barbara Boxer has occupied for the last 24 years will remain in the party’s hands.

However, there is some doubt about which Democrat, making the contest between Attorney General Kamala Harris and Rep. Loretta Sanchez the year’s premier duel whose outcome will have ancillary effects.

It is, first of all, the first statewide test of California’s top-two primary system.

What Sanchez hopes will occur – Republican and independent voters playing decisive roles by electing a Democrat her party doesn’t support – has already happened in a fair number of legislative and congressional districts. It’s created a bloc of moderate, business-friendly Democratic legislators.

With two Democrats dueling, therefore, the state’s fast-dwindling ranks of Republican voters could have far more impact on electing a U.S. senator than they would were Harris facing one of the GOP candidates who lost in the June 7 primary.

Even the most salable of those Republicans, Duf Sundheim, would stand no chance, and tellingly, state Republican Chairman Jim Brulte has expressed relief that the GOP won’t have to waste money on a fall campaign it can’t win.

No matter how the Harris-Sanchez race plays out, it could set the template for statewide intraparty clashes in the future. We might well see such a Democrat-vs.-Democrat race for the governorship in 2018 and perhaps one for another Senate seat should Sen. Dianne Feinstein retire.

Harris is certainly the favorite, as a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll of primary voters underscores. Overall, it found her, at 47 percent, with more than a 2-1 lead over Sanchez with two-thirds of Republicans saying they wouldn’t vote for either in November.

To read expanded column, click here.