When looking at the strategic context of the Senate race in California, the factor that immediately stands out is that this is an open seat contest. The incumbent Barbara Boxer is retiring after representing California in the Senate for 23 years. Her retirement lead to a total of 34 candidates running in the California primary held in June. This flood of candidates aligns with Herrnson (2016) finding that strategic and experienced candidates will often wait to run for an office until the incumbent retires or otherwise runs for a higher office.
The two candidates that proceeded from the top-two primary system are both experienced Democratic politicians that fit Herrnson’s (2016) frame of the experienced candidates as the most strategic ones. As Attorney General of California, Kamala Harris has experience holding a state-wide office, while Loretta Sanchez, as a congresswoman, has participated in government at the federal level.
With the backing of the Democratic party and endorsements of prominent party leaders, I would expect Harris’ campaign to demonstrate the highest level of organization and professionalization. While both campaign websites look highly professional, both seem to have been put on standby. Neither campaign has made more than one press release since the end of August, and their ‘news’ sections similarly do not appear to be updated on a regular basis. Of course it is possible that there simply haven’t been any news to report. However, if this is the case, both campaigns seems to be having a PR issue.
The biggest difference between the campaign websites is that Harris’ website includes a specific page for merchandise. However, this is the only example of a significant difference in the level of campaign organization.
One aspect of the race that has changed in the past few weeks is that a poll released by the Public Policy Institute of California indicates a significant tightening of the race since the primary. The new poll has Harris at a 7 point lead over Sanchez, with a margin of error at 4.5. These numbers are especially interesting considering that Harris beat Sanchez by 20 percentage points in the primary. The change suggests that, while Harris had a clear advantage with the strong ideologues that generally vote in primaries, more moderate voters (and especially Republicans unable to vote for a candidate of their own party) might prefer Sanchez.
In any case, it will be interesting too see if/how coverage and campaign strategies changes as the race appears to be getting more competitive.