Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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California Republican Makes It to the White House

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No, the headline isn’t a mistake. Hell hasn’t frozen over. It’s still 2011. You haven’t been asleep for the past 20 years.

And that California Republican in the White House? It’s House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, third-ranking Republican in the chamber, who had a private lunch earlier today with President Obama, Vice President Biden, House Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (l). Hail to the . . . Whip?

Coming as the lunch did, just three days after Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday, McCarthy’s visit (and later press conference after his tete a tete with the prez) got me to thinking: how soon (or long) before a Californian occupies the Oval Office?

Better yet, if you had to gamble on the next man or woman from the Golden State to get the big job, who’d be your choice?

In previous decades, this was far less complicated . . . 

1971: It’s three year’s since Reagan’s brief and unsuccessful presidential bid. He’s in the beginning of his second term as governor; he can run in 1976. Which he did. And again in 1980, getting the job on the third try.

1981: See above. Moot point.  Job belongs to a Californian.

1991: It’s Pete Wilson’s first year as governor, the economy is in a shambles. But if he can survive the recession and earn a second term, then 1996 beckons. Which is how it played out.

2001: It’s Gray Davis’ third year as governor,’s are closing left and right now that the tech bubble has burst, but if Gray Davis can convincingly win a second term, the Democratic nomination is wide open in 2004. But along came the recall and a guy named Arnold.

2011: Anyone’s guess.

And here’s my guess. I can’t believe about the type the following name, but if there’s such a thing as a Californian with an inside track to the White House, it’s . . . Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

My reasoning:

1) California is a Democratic state in terms of amassing political power and stature. But the current most élite Democratic officeholders aren’t presidential material — that’s Jerry Brown, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer and Nancy Pelosi. So look down the ladder — to people looking to be a future governor or senator.

2) Look for a Democrat who’s both young with political upside. The two most likely figures: Newsom (turned 41 last November) and State Attorney General Kamala Harris (turned 47 ten days after Newsom birthday). Each occupies a springboard office (Gray Davis went from “lite guv” to governor; Jerry Brown moved up from AG to governor). Of those two, I think Newsom is the better campaigner — and will probably do a more effective of using his office to lay the groundwork for a stab at higher office.

3) Why the premium on youth? Presidents aren’t created overnight. Reagan needed 16 years from “The Speech” in the fall of 1964 to his big win on Election Night 1980. Richard Nixon needed 22 years, starting with his first election to Congress in 1946.

4) If he’s elected governor or goes to Washington and builds a record (or, like Wilson, goes to Washington, returns to Sacramento, then runs for president), it gives Newsom time to distance himself from his native San Francisco — and time for his signature issue, same-sex marriage, to become more acceptable nationwide.

Sure, a Republican could get to the White House from California, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. Take Kevin McCarthy’s case. If he ran for President as an incumbent congressman, he probably first needs to leapfrog Cantor and Boehner. There’s no telling how long that would take. Even then, he’d be flying in the face of history, with James A. Garfield the last sitting House member to win a presidential election (Garfield, btw, holding the rate distinction of being a House member, a Senator-elect and president-elect all at the same time). As for coming back to California and seeking a high-profile statewide office, the odds are formidable (not to mention a mess logistically, trying to juggle an East Coast day-job and a West Coast campaign).

What about the money-bag scenario? What’s stopping an unaligned plutocrat from crashing one of the two political parties, ala Godfather’s pizza chief Herman Cain, or mounting an independent run for the White House?

For openers, in regard to the third-party scenario, it’d require both parties to come up with terrible nominees, thus putting the swing vote up for grabs. Second, parting with one’s money for the sake of elected office maybe isn’t as worthwhile or rewarding a pursuit as it seemed only a few months ago.

So where does this leave California? In a position to feel . . . well, kinda left out. Massachusetts has produced two big players on the White House circuit in the last decade (John Kerry and Mitt Romney). Arkansas has Bill Clinton and Mike Huckabee (and Hillary too, some purists would argue). Tennessee has Al Gore, Lamar Alexander and Fred Thompson. Even Ohio has Dennis Kucinich.

And California? Nothing. For now. Or the forseeable future.


Written by Bill Whalen

February 9, 2011 at 10:54 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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