LOS ANGELES (AP) — California’s two U.S. Senate candidates have a single televised debate, raising the risks in what could be a first-and-only look for many voters at Attorney General Kamala Harris and Orange County Rep. Loretta Sanchez.
The pair of Democrats who want to replace Sen. Barbara Boxer will meet on stage for an hour Wednesday evening in Los Angeles, giving a rare spotlight to a low-key race that has been overshadowed by Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
For Sanchez, a 10-term member of the House, the matchup represents perhaps her best chance to slow front-runner Harris, who has been endorsed by President Barack Obama and has never trailed in polling or fundraising.
The contest comes just a few days before mail-in ballots are distributed to millions of voters.
“The burden is on Sanchez,” said pollster Mark DiCamillo, director of the nonpartisan Field Poll. “Harris, basically, just wants to get through the debate unscathed.”
The race marks the first time in the modern era that a Republican will not appear on the Senate ballot, the Democrats-only runoff created by the state’s unusual primary election rules.
The TV audience is expected to be relatively small, and the debate will be competing for viewers with the playoff game between the San Francisco Giants and the New York Mets.
With Harris the favorite of Obama, Gov. Jerry Brown and the state Democratic establishment, Sanchez has been trying to stitch together an unusual coalition that includes Republicans, Hispanics, Democrats and independents.
Viewers can expect the niceties to end after the introductions.
Sanchez provided a peek at one strategy Tuesday, announcing her opposition to Proposition 57, Brown’s plan to permit some inmates serving time for nonviolent crimes to be considered for early release. In a statement, Sanchez said Harris crafted a ballot statement as attorney general that is misleading.
As fellow Democrats, the two candidates share similar positions on many issues, including the $15 minimum wage, climate change and immigration reform. But the debate is likely to highlight their differences.
Sanchez has faulted Harris for increases in violent crime around the state, and argues that the career prosecutor lacks experience in national security. The congresswoman serves on the Homeland Security and Armed Services committees in the House.
Harris’ campaign has criticized Sanchez for her spotty voting record in the House.
The campaign has been notable for its lack of visibility.
Typically, TV commercials would begin circulating widely at this stage in a high-profile campaign. They have not.
Sanchez, in particular, has struggled to raise money and it appears unlikely she will be able to finance the kind of advertising barrage typically needed to shift voters’ views.
Harris, in her second term, has run statewide campaigns and is better known.
Many voters, DiCamillo said, have only the “vaguest of vague impressions” of Sanchez outside of her home base in Southern California.
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