Tom Del Beccaro, a former chairman of the California Republican Party, announced Sunday that he's undertaking a longshot bid to succeed Barbara Boxer as California's next U.S. senator.
The 53-year-old lawyer is the second Republican to enter the 2016 race, joining two-term state Assemblyman Rocky Chavez. Democrat Kamala Harris has established herself as the early front-runner for the seat in a state where Democrats control every statewide office and both chambers of the Legislature.
Del Beccaro, a Walnut Creek resident, has never run for statewide office and is virtually unknown to the California electorate. He faces the daunting task of raising millions of dollars to introduce himself to voters in the state of 39 million people.
Asked about his prospects, Del Beccaro said in an interview that he intended to "elevate the discussion and excite some people, and we'll take it from there.''
Del Beccaro said he wants to shift money dedicated to the high-speed rail project to expanding the state's water supply. He's also proposing to apply the same income tax rate to every taxpayer, regardless of income — a concept known as the flat tax.
After Boxer announced in January that she would retire, Harris quickly announced her decision to enter the race. Her biggest challenge could come from a Democratic member of Congress: Reps. Adam Schiff and Loretta Sanchez are leaving open the possibility of running.
Del Beccaro led the state GOP during a period when the party was losing political influence in the rapidly diversifying state. His efforts to rebrand the party's image failed to halt the decline of Republican registered voters, which now has dipped below 28 percent.
He was elected chairman in March 2011 and served until March 2013. When he left, the state GOP was left with about $500,000 in debt and a shrunken staff. That debt has since been paid off. The party suffered embarrassing loses in 2012: Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was re-elected in a landslide and Democrats rolled up supermajorities in the state Assembly and Senate, reducing Republican legislators to spectators at the statehouse.
He said part of the fundraising problems during his tenure stemmed from a growing trend of donors giving money to superPACs, rather than state political parties. He also said California was not among the state parties designated to receive a share of money raised by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Del Beccaro is a columnist whose work is frequently featured in Forbes Magazine. He also heads a law firm that specializes in business and real estate law.
His campaign will start with about $23,000 in the bank, according to Federal Election Commission records. That compares favorably to the $5,000 that fellow Republican Chavez had at the end of March. But it's eclipsed by the $2.2 million that Harris' campaign had on hand and demonstrates just one of the hurdles that GOP candidates will have to overcome to make the race competitive.
During his tenure as chairman, Del Beccaro held town hall meetings with Hispanic voters and spoke of the need for the party to reach out to younger voters and minorities.
He argued that a flat tax would benefit millions of average Californians, noting that Democratic lawmakers passed tax cuts for corporations such as Tesla under the guise of creating jobs.
"The well-connected are getting tax cuts. The not-so-well-off are left out of the economic equation,'' he said.