Pitney: Conservatives alone won't give AG hopeful Eastman a win

Chris Rizo Mar. 16, 2010, 4:24pm

John Eastman (R)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)-There is little doubt that California attorney general candidate John Eastman is conservatives' favorite, but a leading political analyst said the former law school dean could have serious electoral trouble down the road if he fails to also reach out to Democratic constituencies.

Since the 49-year-old former dean of Chapman University Law School jumped into the race in February to succeed Democrat Jerry Brown as attorney general, Eastman has amassed key endorsements from leading national Republicans, conservative talk-radio personalities and from groups that have a deep-rooted presence in California Republican politics, such as the conservative grassroots California Republican Assembly.

At last week's state GOP Convention, Eastman walked away with the endorsement of the California Congress of Republicans, and just today he announced the nod of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, whose longtime leader, Jon Coupal, called Eastman a "champion of personal liberty and freedom and a proven crusader for taxpayers."

If that were not enough to cement Eastman's conservative credentials, consider this: former Reagan-era U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese is his campaign's honorary co-chair, he is a leader of the Federalist Society and he clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a reliably conservative voice on the nine-member high court.

"I've established myself as the clear conservative standard bearer in the race by talking about the issues that matter most -- staying tough on crime, fighting for taxpayers and restoring constitutional principles to the law in our state," Eastman said in a fundraising plea today.

But can Eastman's solid conservative bona fides translate into a win come the November general election in the Golden State, where Democrats far outnumber Republicans?

Perhaps more so this year than in years past, said Jack Pitney, a former Republican policy analyst and now a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College outside of Los Angeles.

"It's the kind of support you need in order to win a Republican nomination, just as on the Democratic side you need the support of labor unions," Pitney said of Eastman's conservative ties. "However, it's important for a candidate to move beyond the base: a Democrat can't win just with labor unions' support, and a Republican can't win with just the conservative groups."

Working on behalf of Eastman, Pitney said, is his "judicious" manner. "I think even people who disagree with him regard him as very thoughtful," he said, adding that Eastman does not fit the conservative stereotype of a "fire-breathing ideologue."

Also vying for the Republican GOP nomination is state Sen. Tom Harman of Huntington Beach and Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley.

There are wider political dynamics working in favor of Republican political hopefuls this year -- it's a midterm election in which President Barack Obama's approval ratings are on a downward trajectory, Pitney said.

"He has as good of a shot as any conservative running statewide in California," Pitney said of Eastman. "There's a reasonable chance for Republican down-ballot candidates in this general election."

Such was not the case in November 2006, Pitney said, pointing out that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner's wins at the ballot box four years ago happened under somewhat unique circumstances.

"That was a tough year for Republicans," Pitney recounted. "Schwarzenegger won because he was Schwarzenegger and Poizner won because his opponent was laughably inept, while other Republicans went down."

"This year, Republicans have a much better shot," Pitney added.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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