Pete Constant’s withdrawal from the San Jose mayor’s race sent shockwaves through a desperate California Republican Party. Trying to carve out a niche for itself in the Silicon Valley, Constant was seen as the best hope for the party to make an inroad into San Jose.
Constant is considered a real Republican. His exit from the race leaves the party with a swath of moderate Democrats to unenthusiastically support. Normally, a Republican would not have a chance in San Jose. But it is an open secret that Chuck Reed, while a registered Democrat, leans strongly to the right. Constant has been one of his key allies and his community contributions made him a formidable candidate that, in a large primary field, would have given him a real opportunity to succeed. Rumor had it that Republican millionaire Charles Munger Jr. was ready, willing and able to give him the resources necessary to compete.
Many Republican leaders throughout the state saw Constant as a rising star and more than one has expressed disappointment that he chose to bow out.
So with Constant out of the race, some candidates are scurrying to make themselves available to the Republicans in our midst. It is all but certain that county Supervisor Dave Cortese will get the Democratic endorsement, given his long progressive record. That leaves all other mayoral candidates with a need for every possible vote outside the Democratic base. In this current field, even though Republicans are on the verge of extinction in California, they can play a major role in the primary.
Councilmember Rose Herrera took a bold step for support, saying she would eschew the Democratic Party endorsement because it is a special interest. It is a smart ploy, as the Republican party will now stay out of the race—unless Councilman Johnny Khamis jumps in. Madison Nguyen hired a Republican consultant, so she is a natural for some conservative support. Pierluigi Oliverio is an elected member of the Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee, but he has established himself as an independent on many issues, so he has a bridge.
But it is Sam Liccardo who was probably popping champagne over Constant’s departure, as he appears to be the most likely recipient of the “hold your nose” Republican vote. Liccardo has lined up closely to the mayor on many issues. While he is farther to the left than most of the aforementioned candidates, he has a warm relationship with the business community. Finally, and most obviously, he is a white male. History shows that many Republicans have a hard time voting for Democratic women and minorities. Oliverio might fit the bill, but his membership as a card-carrying Democrat makes it difficult. That leaves Liccardo as the last white man standing.
Republicans can make a difference in an election—especially a primary—that will split Democratic votes on core issues as well as gender, racial and geographical lines. They’ll just have to hold their noses while voting.
Rich Robinson is an attorney and political consultant in Silicon Valley.