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Trump Effect: Nazi Leads GOP Senate Field

There was at least one thing that delegates to last weekend’s California Republican Party convention agreed upon: Endorsing a neo-Nazi as their guy to defeat Senator Dianne Feinstein is a bad idea.

So it was that GOP officials would not allow Republican candidate Patrick Little, an anti-Semitic white nationalist who placed second behind DiFi in a recent statewide poll, to register for the San Diego confab, evicting him from the premises as he stomped and dragged an Israeli flag behind him.

“I’ve got more than twice the support” of any other Republican, the 33-year-old Little yapped in a YouTube video made after he was kicked out. “They just had me expelled from the building because I won’t serve Israel.”

Ahead of 10 other Republicans on the June 5 ballot, Little captured 18 percent in the full Senate field of 32 candidates, second behind Feinstein’s 32 percent in a statewide survey published April 24 by SurveyUSA.

To their credit, party officials disavowed him: “Mr. Little has never been an active member of our party,” a spokesperson said. “In the strongest terms possible, we condemn anti-Semitism and any other form of religious bigotry….”

Perhaps it is just a statistical anomaly in a flawed poll that a Holocaust denier campaigning for a government “free from jews [sic]” is the dominant Republican contender (for the record, Little identifies himself as a “civil rights advocate”).

That it’s altogether plausible a neo-Nazi actually leads the GOPpack, however, testifies to how Donald Trump’s race-based demagoguery has enabled and enlarged the influence of previously marginal hate groups.

Which makes just one more factor driving California Republicans toward the fate of the woolly mammoth and the dodo.

Fun with numbers. The secretary of state reports that only 25.4 percent of the state’s nearly 19 million voters are registered Republican ​— ​less than one-half of one percent more than No Party Preference independents (registered Democrats are 44.6 percent of the electorate).

Not since 2006, when Arnold Schwarzenegger won a second term as governor, has a Republican captured a statewide office. And, let’s face it, many members of the California GOP didn’t consider Gov. Schwarzmuscle much of a Republican anyway.

This year, the forecast is so dismal that party leaders rightfully fear they will have no candidate in November, for either governor or senator, because Democrats will finish one-two in the open primary.

This creates a huge headache for party leaders: Although there is no realistic hope for a GOP candidate to win statewide office, Republicans still are desperately defending seven congressional seats as Democrats fight to win back the House ​— ​and therefore need to offer their dwindling partisan base a reason to vote in November.

Hoping to goose turnout, the party changed its rules to allow for endorsements in primaries, but the gambit failed: The hard-fought main event of the convention matched the GOP’s top two challengers for governor, businessman John Cox and Assemblymember Travis Allen, but neither met the 60 percent threshold of delegates needed to prevail.

“We need those voters to turn out,” one Republican fundraiser told AP political writer Mike Blood before the vote. “That’s going to be the margin of victory, to hold our targeted congressional seats and the Assembly and the Senate seats.”

Option C. Amid the possibility there will be no GOP entry in the two marquee races, national Republicans are trying to gin up support for two other conservative causes: (1) a November referendum to repeal last year’s gas-tax increase, which Democrats passed to pay for infrastructure repairs, and (2) opposition to the “sanctuary state” law, limiting cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities, a stance embraced by many Republican candidates.

One key, unanswered question: Will Republicans in endangered House seat races welcome Trump to campaign for them with one of his patented red meat rallies?

The decision rests on tricky political calculus:

Trump lost California to Hillary Clinton by more than four million ballots, and UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies poll recently showed registered voters by more than two to one ​— ​67 to 31 percent ​— ​holding an unfavorable view of his presidency.

At the same time, however, Republicans overwhelmingly approve of Trump ​— ​80 to 19 percent favorable-unfavorable.

(A version of this column is published in this week's edition of the Santa Barbara Independent).

Images: Republican Senate candidate and neo-Nazi Patrick Little (Wikipedia); Future Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, 1977 (Newsweek); Senator Dianne Feinstein.

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