Republicans talk tough about Adam Schiff, but will they run against him?
Republicans are gung-ho to see Adam Schiff bounced out of office after he alleged collusion between President Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia, a charge the congressman’s critics say was refuted by special counsel Robert Mueller’s still widely un-read investigation.
But are they gung-ho enough to actually run a credible candidate against him in 2020?
No Republicans have filed papers yet to challenge Schiff, D-Burbank, in the March 3, 2020 primary in California’s 28th District, even though GOP candidates are lining up to take on Democratic members of Congress in other areas of Southern California. To date, Schiff’s only official challengers are a Democrat and an independent.
Unless that changes, Schiff, D-Burbank could waltz to re-election to an 11th term in Congress in spite of Republican frustration over his role as the outspoken chairman of the powerful House Intelligence Committee.
Richard Sherman, chairman of the Los Angeles County Republican Party, said “a number of candidates” are considering running against Schiff, but did not identify any of them.
“The L.A. GOP is not conceding any races,” Sherman said Monday, six months before the Dec. 6 deadline for declaring a congressional candidacy. “We believe with all that Congressman Schiff has done viz a viz attacking the president, he is perhaps more vulnerable than in the past.”
The National Republican Congressional Committee responded with a blunt yet cryptic statement when asked about the party’s election prospects in the district that covers parts of Hollywood, West Hollywood, Pasadena, Glendale, Sunland, Tujunga and the Angeles National Forest.
“Adam Schiff is a clown who is promoting conspiracy theories to build name recognition for a statewide campaign in California. The NRCC is recruiting in every congressional district across the country — the possible open seat in CA-28 included,” NRCC spokeswoman Torunn Sinclair said by email Monday.
But with no statewide elections scheduled in California next year, and no indication that Sen. Dianne Feinstein or Sen. Kamala Harris would step down before 2020, Schiff has offered no hint that he won’t seek to keep his House seat.
Political analysts say Schiff would probably be as hard to beat as ever. He has pulled in more than 70 percent of the votes in the past three primaries and more than 75 percent in the past four November elections. His Republican opponents in the past two elections were Lenore Solis, a Glendale and Atwater Village activist who said she ran to be a “good soldier” for the GOP, and Johnny Nalbandian, an affable fish wholesaler.
Within Schiff’s district, 48.6 percent of all voters are registered as Democrats, 16.4 percent as Republicans and 30.2 percent are listed with “no party preference,” according to the state’s latest registration data.
The question is whether Schiff’s sharp criticisms of Trump, and leadership of the Intelligence Committee investigation of Russia role in the 2016 presidential election, have alienated enough conservative voters to put him in political hot water — or if he’s energized an already solid base of support.
Monday, a political action committee called the Stop Adam Schiff PAC registered with the Federal Election Commission. A representative of the PAC did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Schiff, a prolific fundraiser who was named last week to head Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraising efforts for 2020, has been sending out appeals for campaign cash in response to Trump saying he “should be forced out of office.”
After Republican members of the Intelligence Committee called for the Democrat to step down as chairman, Schiff stirred the pot again with a speech that enumerated the reasons he suspects Trump-Russia collusion, even if Mueller’s investigation found no crime to prosecute. The speech was popular on social media and commentary about Schiff was a trending topic on Twitter for several days.
“If anything, this turn of events is likely to enhance Schiff’s stature within the Democratic Party,” said Dan Schnur, a former Republican spokesman and strategist who now is a professor at USC’s Annenberg Center. “There’s nothing like being attacked by Donald Trump and his allies to make you a hero among Democrats.”
And a bum among Republicans and some independents.
Jennifer Barbosa, an actress and former neighborhood council board member who filed papers March 22 to run as an independent in the 28th District, said Schiff’s statements about collusion are “disgraceful” and the congressman should be working harder to improve his district.
“I go outside, and there are potholes, homeless encampments, and (drug) needles,” said Barbosa, who lives in Hollywood. “I (am) just disgusted by how he’s channeling all his time and energy into the Trump-Russia thing and not the district.”
Akinyemi Agbede, a mathematician who ran in California gubernatorial primaries in 2014 and 2018 without breaking 1 percent, filed Feb. 22 to run against Schiff. Agbede, a Democrat, declined to take sides in the battle between Schiff and Trump supporters.
“He (Schiff) has tried his best, but his best is not good enough,” Agbede said, calling for improvements in transportation, housing and education.
Sherman, the L.A. County GOP chairman, acknowledged that Republican leaders and would-be candidates might decide campaign funds and energy are better spent on trying to win back the six California congressional districts that flipped to Democrats in 2018. At least two Republican candidates have filed papers to run in each of the Orange County districts won last year by Democrats Katie Porter, D-Irvine, Harley Rouda, D-Laguna Beach, and Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano.
The danger in targeting a hated member of the opposing party purely out of spite is illustrated by the experience of Omar Navarro, the Republican who has challenged Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, in the past two elections. Despite raising huge amounts of money from Trump supporters, Navarro saw his share of the general-election vote shrink from 23.9 percent in 2016 to 22.3 in 2018. Navarro has said he’ll try again in 2020.
But Sherman said Republicans could decide instead that it’s worth trying to force Democrats to spend resources on fending off an embarrassing defeat in Schiff’s district.
Sherman added: “If he (Schiff) has a fight coming — whether it’s with a strong independent or a Republican — he brought that on himself.”