Here’s a question, one with a great deal of merit and some buzz.
Is Sen. Dianne Feinstein about to retire?
In a June 21 Field Poll, only 43 percent of registered voters said they were inclined to vote for her; 39 percent said they were not.
These are poor numbers for an incumbent who for years has represented California as one of its two U.S. senators.
Feinstein’s age also has become an issue. She would be 85 at the end of another term. The San Francisco Chronicle brought up the question just this week, quoting experts on the effects of aging on cognitive abilities.
Why, at 79, would Feinstein want to run, in a difficult election year, with low poll numbers and a reasonable chance that Republicans could win back the Senate?
In that event, why would Feinstein want to stick around as the minority leader on the Intelligence Committee – which she now chairs – and listen to Republicans dismiss her?
Which raises a second question. If Feinstein does decide to retire, who would replace her? Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom would surely be interested, though both carry political baggage and might draw a strong Republican challenger, thus draining off money from the national Democratic campaign.
But, there is another idea being discussed.
Who is the non-incumbent and non-politician who would be a slam dunk winner for the Democrats?
The obvious answer – one which might startle some – is former first lady of California Maria Shriver.
Stay with me here.
Granted, she is in the midst of a divorce.
Yet she comes out the winner for not staring adoringly at her cheating husband, comes out richer by a few hundred million dollars, and could have the case closed by the end of this year.
Look at the perfect storm in Shriver’s favor.
She holds enviable cards. She has:
- Huge name recognition.
- Celebrity and political status.
- Access to national media cultivated over decades in politics and journalism.
- History as a Democrat in a state with huge Democratic majorities.
- Wealth in her own right, and will be even wealthier after the divorce is final – which, fortuitously, could be final before year’s end.
- A Rolodex of Kennedy supporters (Dems) and Schwarzenegger supporters (Repubs).
- A record of supporting women’s issues, and would be running to replace a woman in a state where the majority of voters are women.
- Roman Catholic roots in a state which is home to the famous “Reagan Democrats,” aka Catholics who are swing-bloc voters in most elections.
- Great support among Hispanics (Robert Kennedy, Shriver’s uncle, and the late activist César Chávez share iconic status).
- Residency in Southern California. All the political power now resides among Democrats in the north (Pelosi, Boxer, Feinstein, Burton). The south wants its own senator.
- Six best-selling books.
- Peabody and Emmy Awards for television journalism, one an NBC Special on Alzheimer’s.
- A BFF relationship with Oprah.
What more could a candidate want or need?
- Did I mention the Special Olympics?
- That she organized the First Lady’s Conference on Women?
What interest group hasn’t she touched?
Add to this, the palpable fear that the Democrats are in danger in 2012 because Obama is no longer “cool” and that his own job approval numbers are below 50 percent.
Thus, the efforts to add pizzazz to the national ticket (by floating rumors about replacing the vice president with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (both higher in popularity than the president).
Clearly, Democrats need a rising star to take hold of the public’s imagination. Shriver fits the bill and could fill the “Kennedy seat” that's still vacant in the Senate.
If Feinstein does retire, the office could be both Shriver’s destiny and destination.
And this may be more than just a rumor.
The Internet domain name Maria2012 has already been taken.