The California conundrum

Some Republicans believe that, if 2010 turns out to be the kind of year it may be shaping up to be, the Party can pick up the California Senate seat held by Barbara Boxer. In theory, this view may be reasonable. But first, the Republicans must nominate a strong candidate.
The Republicans have three contenders: former Congressman Tom Campbell, former Hewlett Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina, and state assemblyman Chuck DeVore. On paper, Campbell (the frontrunner in the polls) seems like an ideal candidate. He’s an outstanding economist with a strong record as a free-marketer. I understand that when he served in Congress, Campbell was twice named the most fiscally responsible member by the National Taxpayers Union. He also seems to poll reasonably well among California moderates.
Lately, though, Campbell has been plagued by questions about the extent of his support for Israel and for his relationships with radical enemies of Israel, most notably Sami al-Arian. Al-Arian has pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide services to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Earlier, Campbell had received a campaign contribution from al-Arian and had written a letter on his behalf asking al-Arian’s university not to fire him. Campbell also has come under fire for an association with Allison Weir, another anti-Israel activist.
As a member of Congress, Campbell was generally supportive of Israel, However, he voted against aid to Israel on occasion and voted against a resolution expressing support for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
David Frum, a strong supporter of Israel, has defended Campbell’s record in Congress and provided helpful context on the votes that have come under attack. My view is that, while Campbell’s voting record on Israel was not ideal, it would not cause me to vote against him unless everything else were equal.
The associations with al-Arian and Weir are, to me, more troubling. Here too, context is important. Al-Arian is a bad guy, but there was a time when this was not so apparent to Republicans. As a candidate for president, George W. Bush posed for a photograph with him and al-Arian later visited the White House.
Nonetheless, the totality of Campbell’s associations with strident anti-Israelis is troubling, and I would need to sort through these associations carefully before I could consider voting for Campbell. My views aside, moreover, I think Republicans need to be concerned about whether Campbell can win the votes of Jews and (more importantly) evangelical Christians, unless he can provide good answers to the kinds of questions noted above.
But what of the alternatives? Carly Fiorina has no political record to speak of, and she frequently has not even bothered.to vote (“shame on me” is her honest response). Fiorina was ousted by Hewlett Packard in 2005. I’ve heard some unflattering things about her tenure with that company, but they are only hearsay.
My bottom line on Fiorina’s candidacy is that I have no bottom line yet. The Israel issue aside, however, I would definitely prefer Campbell.
IInterestingly, to me at least, both Campbell and Fiorina have strong Stanford connections. Fiorina got her undergraduate degree there. And her father, Joseph Sneed, was a legendary professor at Stanford Law School (he left in 1971 just before I arrived). Sneed later served on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Campbell too was a professor at Stanford Law School.
Chuck DeVore appears to be a very solid conservative. To the extent the people I trust in California have reservations about him, they center on whether he has what it takes to defeat the rather formidable Boxer. These questions center on his stature and his ability to appeal to moderates.
Yesterday, the three candidates squared off for their first debate. Campbell had called for the debate so that the charges that he is anti-Israeli could be addressed.
Fiorina distanced herself from reported comments by her campaign chair that Campbell is anti-semitic (charges I’m confident are baseless). However, both Fiorina and DeVore attacked Campbell’s record on Israel. Campbell admitted, as he has in the past, that he should have “done a better job of finding out who [al Arian] was at the time.”
DeVore’s campaign has posted the entire debate and you can listen to it here.
UPDATE: Bruce Kesler has more about the debate.

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