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California Delegation Taking Stock of Primary Foes

Newly minted California Senate candidate Carly Fiorina (R) is making the rounds in Washington, D.C., this week, giving members of the Golden State House Republican delegation the chance to size her up as they begin to take sides in her primary against state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore.

Only one Member of Congress, Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), has formally endorsed in the GOP primary, and he has cast his lot with DeVore. The rest are bound to be coveted endorsement quarry as the primary contest heats up. Fiorina, in particular, needs to diversify her base of support to build credibility with the conservative party base.

Even if they haven’t made their preferences known, many of the Republicans in the state delegation said they like what they’ve seen thus far.

“Impressive— was the operative word used by House Republicans to describe the former technology executive and her candidacy, which has been unofficially blessed by most national party leaders.

Fiorina is “one of the more impressive candidates I’ve seen to come on the scene— from outside the political world, said Rep. Devin Nunes (R), who represents part of Fresno in the California’s Central Valley. She is someone, he said, “who understands the serious problems California has and can articulate a clear message— about how to solve them.

“I’ve been very impressed by her,— said Rep. Dan Lungren (R), who represents the 3rd district, encompassing suburbs of Sacramento.

Fiorina is meeting with the delegation during their weekly lunch today, where she will get another chance to make her pitch.

Nunes and Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R) are already rallying behind her. “She’s the right person at the right time,— said Bono Mack, who represents Palm Springs. “I’m enthusiastically endorsing her.—

Nunes also said Fiorina will have his support. It’s nothing against DeVore, whom he called a “really good guy, really smart.— But Nunes said, “I don’t think he has the resources.— And Nunes praised Fiorina’s ability to appeal to voters both in the Central Valley, which tends to be more conservative than the coast, and Silicon Valley.

Another Republican House Member, who declined to be identified, also was skeptical of DeVore’s chances. “He has a lot to do to prove he can mount a serious campaign. I don’t think he has done that yet.—

Republicans in the state think political trends are moving in their favor and are salivating at the thought of unseating Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) after a series of Senate setbacks. The last time a Republican won a Senate race in California was in 1988.

And the ability to go toe-to-toe with Boxer is foremost on Republicans’ minds when asked whom they might endorse. That is “the overriding factor— in gauging the two candidates, said Rep. John Campbell (R), who is still mulling whether to endorse in the primary. DeVore is a constituent in his Orange County district, having succeeded Campbell in the state Assembly.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R) is also still on the sidelines, and unlike Bono Mack and Nunes, he is not convinced that one candidate is necessarily more promising than the other.

Issa said that Fiorina’s “organizational skills are terrific— and she’ll be able to raise a lot of money, but that DeVore has an advantage among the people who vote in the Republican primary. The bottom line, he said, is that 40 percent of Republican voters remain undecided, according the latest poll of the race. “They need to have a lively debate to get their ideas out,— he said.

Rep. David Dreier (R) said he was “one of those who encouraged [Fiorina] early on to do this,— but he also said he also knows DeVore “very well— and has made no endorsement decision yet.

Not every member of the California delegation was high on Fiorina’s candidacy. McClintock said he got behind DeVore early on because he is “the most stalwart voice for Republican principles— in the state Assembly, “and that’s exactly the kind of leadership we need to project in the post-Bush, post [Gov. Arnold] Schwarzenegger-era.—

McClintock said he thinks DeVore can win the Senate race by rallying activists and party volunteers energized as part of the backlash against Democratic policies in Washington. He said he had “grave doubts— that Fiorina could defeat Boxer.

“Nominating Schwarzenegger Republicans like Fiorina … will have a chilling effect on the Republican base,— McClintock said.

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