She may have lost the Republican Senate primary in California last March, but as an abortion rights supporter, mother of three and Latina immigrant who came to the United States from Mexico City at the age of 14, former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin is still a hot property in GOP circles. [IMGCAP(1)]
“It doesn’t get much more ‘new face’ than that in the Republican Party,” said Kevin Spillane, a Sacramento-based Republican consultant.
As she stumps the country on behalf of President Bush’s re-election campaign, some friends and Republican strategists have begun to throw Marin’s name around as a possible replacement for embattled California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley (D), who recently has come under attack for the way he has administered state contracts and handled campaign contributions.
“People see me as all these things. I see myself as a Republican,” Marin said in an interview last week.
Since ending her campaign in early March, Marin has been asked for help by both Bush and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) — neither of whom endorsed her Senate bid — because she is a moderate woman who garnered strong support, especially in Southern California, in her second-place primary finish to the establishment candidate, former California Secretary of State Bill Jones.
Immediately after ending her own campaign, Marin was back out on the trail, speaking for Bush in California, Arizona, New Mexico and even at the Democratic National Convention in Boston as part of the GOP’s “truth squad.”
“Obviously she has incredible appeal to the Latino community, but she also has a lot of credibility to talk about financial issues as well,” said Bush campaign spokeswoman Sharon Castillo.
Marin was appointed by the president to serve as U.S. treasurer in 2001 and held the job until June 2003, when she resigned to begin her Senate campaign.
When she’s not on the road, Marin has been serving as chairwoman of the California Integrated Waste Management Board. Schwarzenegger, who endorsed Jones in the Senate primary, appointed Marin to the $100,000-a-year post in late April, and her term runs through Jan. 1, 2008.
But some California political strategists don’t see Marin working on waste management issues quite that long.
“There’s a potential opportunity here,” said Ken Khachigian, a veteran GOP consultant and Marin’s senior strategist during her Senate campaign.
With Shelley coming under fire in the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers for possible ethical lapses, and state and federal investigations of him already under way, “his half life doesn’t look great,” Khachigian said. “If he leaves office under this cloud [Marin] would be a great pickup for the Schwarzenegger administration” as a replacement.
“Several folks in the party feel the same way,” Khachigian said.
But even if Marin were tapped to take over for Shelley, the appointment would have to be approved by the Democratic Legislature in Sacramento.
“My thought is that they would not want a highly visible person in that position,” said Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the California Target Book, which handicaps Congressional and legislative races. “They want a bureaucrat who isn’t going to run for higher office.”
“I don’t think the Democratic Legislature would allow that to happen,” agreed Spillane. “I would expect the governor to appoint a caretaker to that job.”
But Hoffenblum did say Schwarzenegger owes Marin and a possible appointment to some plum position might be in the cards. Schwarzenegger’s endorsement of Jones in the Senate primary for the right to take on Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) cut the rug out from under Marin’s campaign, Hoffenblum said.
“There are some that think Rosario would get a more interesting campaign [than Jones] against Boxer,” he said.
But even if Shelley doesn’t leave office early, his seat will be up in 2006 and his re-election chances look bleak, Republicans said.
Besides the secretary of state post, Khachigian said there’s also the potential of Marin getting another appointment in a second Bush administration. Regardless of how California politics play out in the near future, Marin is well-positioned to make another statewide run, he said.
“I think you have to pick and choose. Having lost one you don’t want to go out and lose another,” Khachigian said. But by 2008 or 2010 “depending on what is available she would only be 50 or 51, which is young. You’re looking at another statewide race, potentially for the Boxer seat.”
But Marin, an amicable woman who was somewhat embarrassed by talk of her next step, said she doesn’t like to speculate about her political future.
“One of the things that I have tried hard to do is to concentrate on what the issue at hand is,” she said, adding that in 2003, she actually learned by reading Roll Call that her name was being thrown around as a possible candidate to face Boxer.
“I know people speculate about a lot of things,” she said. “I don’t have time to be thinking about that right now. I have a board to run … I don’t get paid to speculate, I get paid to do my job.”
But that doesn’t stop others from talking.
“When you consider the bench of Republican politics in California, she’s pretty dynamic,” Hoffenblum said. “I have good contacts with Latinos on both sides of the aisle and what I found out is how highly respected she is in the Latino community … she’s not perceived as a fierce partisan.”
“She fits the profile of the emerging California Republican majority, she’s a woman, a Latina and someone that has conservative views on some issues and moderate views on others,” Khachigian said. “She also has a very engaging life story to tell.”
The daughter of a seamstress and a janitor, Marin came to the United States not knowing any English and because of the language barrier was found to have an IQ of 27 when she entered high school. Within three years she had graduated with honors, went to work in a Beverly Hills bank and put herself through college at the University of California at Los Angeles. She went on to graduate from the program for senior executives in state and local government at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School for Government.
After marrying an immigrant from Nicaragua, Marin gave birth to a son with Down’s Syndrome and soon became a vocal advocate for children with disabilities. Her advocacy work would earn her a spot in the administration of then-Gov. Pete Wilson (R). In 1994, Marin was elected to the City Council in the heavily Democratic and Latino Huntington Park, a city southeast of downtown Los Angeles.
Marin calls her story an American story that many people, no matter what their background, can appreciate.
“People can relate to the fact that in America anything is possible,” she said. “That someone like me can run for the U.S. Senate, the second most powerful body on earth, gives hope to everyone.”
Despite being unsuccessful, Marin calls her aborted Senate bid the best experience of her life.
“When you are a pioneer, when you are the first one to open the door, you may not be able to walk into it,” Marin said. “But you’ve left it open for others to do that.”