published on June 7, 2016 - 8:01 PM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

(AP) — California’s unusual election rules allow only two U.S. Senate candidates to advance to a November runoff. In a show of political force, both spots could be taken by Democrats, reaffirming the party’s dominance in the nation’s most populous state.

If the Democrats prevail Tuesday, it would be the first time since voters starting electing senators a century ago that Republicans have been absent from California’s general election ballot for the chamber. Before that, senators were appointed by the Legislature.

A series of polls in advance of Tuesday’s election suggest Attorney General Kamala Harris and U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Orange County, both Democrats, will face off again in the November contest.

Overall, 34 candidates will be on the ballot to replace retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat first elected in 1992. They will appear on a single ballot, and voters can choose any candidate, regardless of party.

But only two — the top vote-getters — will advance to the November election.

California was once a reliable Republican state in presidential elections. But the party has seen its numbers erode for years, and it now accounts for a meager 27 percent of registered voters.

Democrats control every statewide office and both chambers of the Legislature, while holding a registration edge of nearly 2.8 million voters.

With 12 Republicans on the ballot — and none widely known to voters — it’s likely the GOP vote will be splintered, weakening the party’s chances of advancing a candidate to November.

Still, a surprise is possible with a large field and polls showing many undecided voters. The leading Republicans are:

— Del Beccaro, 54, a small-business attorney and former chairman of the state GOP.

— Duf Sundheim, a Silicon Valley lawyer and another former chairman of the California Republican Party.

— Ron Unz, 54, a Harvard University-educated theoretical physicist-turned-software developer who sold a company he founded, Wall Street Analytics Inc., to Moody’s Corp. in 2006.

As fellow Democrats, Harris and Sanchez hold similar positions on many issues, including abortion rights and immigration reform.

But a fall contest would create demographic and geographical contrasts for state voters:

Sanchez is Hispanic with roots in Southern California, while Harris is from the San Francisco Bay Area, and her father is black and her mother Indian.

Sanchez, if elected, could become one of the first Latinas to hold a U.S. Senate seat.

Catherine Cortez Masto, who is also Hispanic, is the Democratic candidate for outgoing Sen. Harry Reid’s seat in Nevada.

Harris could become the second black woman elected to the Senate. Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun was elected in 1992 and served one term. She also would be the first Indian woman to hold a Senate seat — her mother was born in India and came to the U.S. in 1960.

Harris, 51, a career prosecutor, has played up winning a big settlement with banks accused of improper mortgage foreclosures and her work to defend the state’s landmark climate change law.

Sanchez, 56, has stressed her national security credentials built up during 10 terms in Washington.

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