Why Republican Lanhee Chen thinks he can win in California

California hasn’t elected a Republican to statewide office since 2006, but Lanhee Chen thinks that may be the year one of the nation’s b...

California hasn’t elected a Republican to statewide office since 2006, but Lanhee Chen thinks that may be the year one of the nation’s bluest states shows a touch of red.

Chen, 43, is seeking to become a comptroller, effectively the state’s chief financial officer. He challenges the incumbent, Betty Yee, a Democrat.

The first ballot in California’s multiparty primary system is in June, and the general election, when Chen and Yee face off, will be in November. The state has not elected a Republican Comptroller since the 1970s.

Although this is his first bid for public office, Stanford University professor Chen is no stranger to the political fray. He served as policy director for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential bid and worked in the administration of President George W. Bush.

In an interview, he explained why he is running, why he thinks he can win, and his party’s last two presidential standard bearers. Here are edited excerpts from our conversation.

Why run for controller instead of going big and running for governor, or starting local at school board or city council?

It’s an extremely valuable platform for someone looking to make changes in the way the state does its business – the ability to audit any agency you can really get in there and fix things . And I deal with diagnosing the problems that our state faces. And for me, the problems facing the state are primarily fiscal in nature. So for me, this desk is perfect for the things I want to do and how I think we can fix the condition, even if it’s not the most glamorous desk.

What are the biggest challenges facing California?

The cost of living is a big issue – nobody can afford a house. And if they can, they save for decades to do so. The problem of homelessness, which is related to the quality of life and the general environment, has worsened even since I have lived there since returning home in 2013. public safety are very real, and they have become much more public with the armed robberies over the summer.

California Republicans have historically won in times of disorder. But can you still count on a backlash policy in these polarized times, where people tend to stick to their party no matter what the issue?

It is something that has been built for a long time. If you had asked me the same question two or four years ago, the answer might have been no. I think now the situation has become so urgent. Look how many recall elections we have, whether it’s for governor or for school board and district attorney in San Francisco. The level of reaction to what we see goes beyond party, it goes beyond ideology – it goes to the experiences that people have. I think that anger, that frustration, is palpable. I hear it from Democrats, I hear it from Independents and Republicans. So that leads me to believe, yes, it can transcend the partisan polarization that we’ve seen.

How do you diagnose your party’s problems in California? Why can’t Republicans even run statewide?

Party leadership in California has generally focused on winning targeted legislative and congressional races. You can’t blame them for that justification, but the problem is that you then have no statewide voter contact infrastructure. It’s number 1.

No. 2: There haven’t been candidates who can muster and articulate the kind of message and vision that appeals broadly to Californians.

Let’s say you’re campaigning at a farmer’s market in, say, Santa Barbara or Monterey, and a constituent approaches you and seems to like you. But they fear voting for the Trump party. What do you tell them?

I think it’s really important to understand where I’m coming from and why I think it’s important to have someone who has a different partisan alignment than the rest of the people in state government. So start with the notion that checks and balances are important. But then I move on to talk about the Republican Party that I know and the kind of Republican Party that I believe we can have again, centered on ideas like responsibility and accountability. At some point, we’re going to have to move beyond individual personalities, and I don’t know when that will be.

So why not present yourself as independent?

On a practical level, if you’re not worth billions of dollars, you won’t be able to build the necessary base. But there is a more important point. I think authenticity matters a lot in politics, and I’ve been a Republican all my life. I’ve never been recorded as anything else, and I think it’s important to be yourself.

As liberal as it is, California has millions of dedicated Trump supporters. How do you balance the appeal to the political milieu without alienating the people of MAGA?

What Governor Glenn Youngkin did successfully in Virginia: You focus on the problems of the state and you tackle the problems that are before us. If you don’t focus on those, you not only risk not getting the job done, but also talking about things that aren’t so relevant to the day-to-day lives of people in your state.

Let’s say you receive two phone calls: the first is from Mitt Romney and the second from Donald Trump. Both want to come to California to campaign for you. What do you tell them?

I would just say I do my own thing. Now, I have to say this: Obviously, I have great respect and admiration for Mitt Romney. There’s very little I wouldn’t do for him.

Jonathan Martin is National Political Correspondent for The New York Times.



  • Weather alert: Snow is expected through Wednesday in high-altitude areas over large swathes of central California, including Yosemite Valley and Vine.

  • Death while hiking: Phone records of a family who died while hiking near the Merced River last summer reveal text messages and calls pleading for help, The Associated Press reports.


1.8 million homes in California, Maine and New Mexico.

Today’s travel tip comes from Al Evers, who recommends Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park in the Bay Area:

“A hidden redwood forest lies off Redwood Road, just a few miles from the ridge in downtown Oakland. Peaceful forest groves give little evidence of the park’s bustling past — in the mid-1800s, the area saw heavy logging to provide building materials for the San Francisco Bay Area. The era of logging is long gone and a majestic forest of 150-foot coast redwoods has replaced the felled ones.

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Send your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We will share more in future editions of the newsletter.

a new book on the history of PayPal and the entrepreneurs who shaped Silicon Valley.

This week, a waterfall in Yosemite National Park is expected to turn for a few minutes at sunset into a fiery ribbon of bright orange.

With sufficient rainfall and clear skies, Horsetail Falls – which cascades down the east side of El Capitan – can become a “fall of fire” for a few weeks each year in late February.

Sunset light angle can make it ‘glow and look like it’s on fire’ said a park spokeswoman.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Why Republican Lanhee Chen thinks he can win in California
Why Republican Lanhee Chen thinks he can win in California
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