By Jim Ellis
March 14, 2017 — Veteran actor Arnold Schwarzenegger made famous the line, “I’ll be back,” in the “Terminator” movies. Now, the former California governor is intimating that he may return to Golden State politics, saying he is “not ruling out” a run for US Senate next year.
But a bigger question looms. Veteran Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) — the body’s most elderly member at 83 years of age — has not announced her retirement. In fact, the senator recently said in a California radio interview that she is seriously considering seeking a fifth full term in 2018. Despite her comments, she remains a retirement possibility, and it is doubtful that Schwarzenegger would run unless the seat comes open.
Several questions pose themselves. Since Republicans have fared so poorly in California statewide elections since his own last victory in 2006 (56-39 percent over then-state Treasurer Phil Angelides), there are questions as to whether the actor/politician would run as an Independent should he make a return to the electoral world.
Actually, the Indie option makes sense for a number of reasons.
First: Schwarzenegger’s public feud with President Trump over Schwarzenegger’s succession as host of “The Apprentice” television show has sparked conflict between the two men. Therefore, representing California as an Independent senator would allow him a freer hand in dealing with the White House than if he were an elected Republican. It would also allow him to run as an anti-Trump candidate to be more in line with the California electorate before which the president is extremely unpopular.
Second: The party label would do him little good in the general election because not one GOP candidate has won a statewide election of any kind since he and then-Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner were last victorious in what will be 12 years by the time of the next vote.
Third: The state’s jungle primary system does away with partisan primaries so an Independent candidate can advance to the general election from the same ballot just as any Republican or Democrat. The top two finishers, regardless of party affiliation, qualify for California general elections.
Fourth: It is not likely that Schwarzenegger would lose too many Republican voters even if he were running as an Independent. He is, however, weak within the conservative base because the activists were at odds with him during the latter part of his gubernatorial tenure.
Fifth: Though the official national Republican Party apparatus would not support Schwarzenegger if he were running as an Independent, such would not preclude Super PAC activity on his behalf. Though California campaigns are exorbitantly expensive, Schwarzenegger’s strong name identification and fundraising ability would likely be enough to overcome any dollars he might forfeit by not running as a Republican.
For the GOP, having Schwarzenegger on the California ballot would have to be viewed positively. The party doesn’t have a candidate who could successfully compete, so even if their former governor votes only sparingly with the Senate’s conservative faction he would still be a welcome addition.
Last November, Democrats qualified two party members in the open Senate contest to replace the retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer (D). Then-Attorney General Kamala Harris defeated fellow Democrat and US Representative Loretta Sanchez (D-Santa Ana), 62-38 percent, in a race that was a foregone conclusion from immediately after the primary election. Harris spent $14 million in her successful effort, a low number by California standards. In the 2010 competitive contest between Sen. Boxer and Republican Carly Fiorina, for example, the two candidates spent over $50 million combined.