WASHINGTON – California Republicans say they can't wait to take on two-term Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer (search) in next year's election, but 18 months before Election Day -- and 10 months before the GOP primary -- all they've done is talk.
Republicans mentioned as potential candidates: at least 10. Declared Republican challengers: zero.
New names get added to the mix on a regular basis, a sign that GOP leaders are still searching for a candidate they believe can win a statewide election. Recently, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger (search), reported to be considering a run for governor in 2006, fueled speculation that he might seek the Senate seat when he met with Sen. George Allen of Virginia, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Full-throttled campaigns in other states make the absence of Republican candidates in California all the more striking. In South Carolina, several Republicans are vying to take on another Democratic incumbent thought to be vulnerable, Sen. Ernest Hollings, and a GOP congressman is challenging Republican Sen. Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania.
In some ways, the news for California Republicans, who have suffered a string of statewide defeats, hasn't been this good in years.
Boxer's ratings in public opinion polls are unimpressive, and Democratic Gov. Gray Davis is struggling to close a $35 billion budget deficit. Meanwhile, the war in Iraq has boosted the standing of President Bush, who lost the state by 1.3 million votes in 2000. He led any potential challenger in recent polls in California.
Former state Attorney General Dan Lungren (search), Republican nominee for governor in 1998, said the war has delayed the political season, although Democrats said California seems to be the only state where GOP campaigns are on hold.
"The previous lack of success by Republican statewide candidates have caused people to take a very deep look at it, let's put it that way," Lungren added.
Of the potential candidates, Rep. Doug Ose plans to make a decision around Memorial Day, spokesman Yier Shi said.
As for the others, it's anyone's guess.
Dan Allen, spokesman for the GOP senatorial committee, said strong candidates will emerge in the next several months and have enough time to raise the money necessary to make the race against Boxer credible.
"The fact is, her positions on the issue make her an enticing target for Republicans," Allen said. "The fact that she only has $2 million on hand makes the race even more enticing. We have a lot of people seriously looking at the race."
A Field Poll that found Boxer could theoretically be defeated also contained notes of caution for the GOP. The most highly rated Republicans were former Gov. Pete Wilson, who alienated Hispanic voters with his support for Proposition 187 denying state benefits to illegal aliens; and Bill Simon, who lost to Davis last year in a campaign riddled with miscues.
Ose, fellow Reps. Darrell Issa and George Radanovich and U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin barely registered in the poll.
"It really is the most accurate reflection of how Republicans assess their chances of winning the seat," Boxer campaign spokesman Roy Behr said.
"They've gone through their list and concluded there are no candidates with traditional backgrounds who stand a chance. So now they're in the desperate stage of throwing out non-traditional names -- actors or people with ethnic or demographic profiles they might like."