Could a Republican break through in California's Senate primary?

Tom Del Beccaro, Duf Sundheim and Ron Unz (L-R), Republican candidates for Barbara Boxer's U.S. Senate seat.
Tom Del Beccaro, Duf Sundheim and Ron Unz (L-R), Republican candidates for Barbara Boxer's U.S. Senate seat.
Lisa Pickoff-White / KQED

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On Tuesday, Californians will send two U.S. Senate candidates to the November general election. Under the state’s “top two” primary system, those candidates can be from any political party – but polls show two Democrats in the lead.

Of the 12 Republicans on Tuesday’s primary ballot, just three have drawn enough support to qualify for televised debates.

None of them are cracking double digits in polls. And they all trail the two leading Democrats: Attorney General Kamala Harris and Orange County Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez.

“(The polls have) drowned out the Republican message to some degree, just because many people do not expect a Republican to necessarily make the runoff in November,” says GOP political consultant Mason Harrison.

But he says don’t rule out a Republican making the top two – because up to half of likely GOP primary voters are undecided. “I don’t believe that 50 percent of Republicans are gonna leave their ballots blank.”

And here, Harrison says, is where campaign tactics way under the radar could come into play: local party endorsements, voter guide statements, and slate mailers – those flyers you get in the mail with lists of recommended candidates.

“Although they may appear to be an endorsement from an organization, it’s actually a piece of mail that the candidates have actually paid to be on,” he says.

There’s also a late independent spending push from GOP megadonor Charles Munger, who’s backing Duf Sundheim.

If Republicans consolidate behind one candidate, it’s entirely possible that candidate could make the top two. But if they split their votes up, those chances drop significantly.

Series: California Counts

California Counts is a collaboration of KPBS, KPCC, KQED and Capital Public Radio to report on the 2016 election. The coverage focuses on major issues and solicits diverse voices on what's important to the future of California.

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