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GOP Assemblyman Rocky Chavez Drops His Senate Bid

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, R-Oceanside, foreground, leaves the state Assembly at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, March 5, 2015. Chavez entered the 2016 race for the U.S. Senate, Thursday.

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

Scott Shafer | KQED

Struggling for cash and mired in single digits in recent polls, Republican Assemblyman Rocky Chavez is ending his bid for the U.S. Senate. Instead, he’ll run for re-election to the Assembly.

Chavez announced his decision at the beginning of a radio debate with KOGO-AM in San Diego. His decision leaves two Republicans in the race to replace retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Given the Republican party’s “image problem” among Latinos, Chavez seemed like the kind of candidate the GOP would rally around. And yet his two main Republican rivals are both former party chairs. What did Chavez make of that?

“That speaks for itself,” Chavez told me in a recent interview. “This election is not about insiders,” citing support for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders as evidence voters are looking for outsiders.

When I pointed out that California currently has no statewide officeholders who are Republican, he says that other failed statewide candidates, presumably like Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, were flawed.

Chavez ends his campaign with $369 in cash and debts of $42,889.

“The other candidates we had were nice people but they were never elected and they do not reflect the complexity of California,” Chavez said. “Unlike me, born in L.A., worked the fields with my cousins around Fresno. Graduated from Chico State working in the packing plants and working in the almond fields. I’m not a silver spoon person that gave a lot of money. I worked my way through.”

Chavez was commissioned in the U.S. Marines in 1974, and he retired 10 days before the 9/11 terrorist attacks that led to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Two years later, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger chose Chavez to be undersecretary of the California Department of Veterans Affairs. He was elected to the State Assembly from Oceanside in 2012.

When asked why he’s better prepared to represent California in the U.S. Senate than the two Democrats running, Chavez gave a surprising answer.

“I’m married,” Chavez said. “Three kids and five grandkids, unlike my opponents that don’t have kids. And I was a single parent. Try being a parent, try being a single parent. Neither one of those ladies have ever experienced that and I have. And all three of my children have college degrees. And that’s called the California experience and dream.”

Chavez seemed to recoil at the notion of being labeled a “Latino candidate.”

“I never saw myself as a Latino Marine,” he said.

When asked about immigration reform, Chavez took a tortured path before finally saying he’d support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

“People are saying you need a path to citizenship, and I’m saying it’s a little more complex than that,” Chavez said. “If children are here and their parents have come here because of migration and the drive of jobs, they should be able to be here and be recognized. That’s not citizenship, that’s residency.”

Criticizing anti-immigrant, pro-deportation statements from members of his own party, including Donald Trump, Chavez said “children shouldn’t have to worry at night if their father is going to be gone.”

As far as citizenship goes, he said “I wouldn’t allow anyone to the front of the line or support amnesty or anything else.”

Now that he’s withdrawn from the Senate race, Chavez won’t have to deal with that issue. Based on campaign finance reports filed last week with the Federal Election Commission, Chavez was trailing badly in the money race.

His campaign raised $105,035 in 2015, ending the year with just $369 in cash and debts of $42,889. That’s less than the former GOP chairs running against him, Duf Sundheim and Tom Del Beccaro. All of them — and Sanchez — have been dwarfed by the campaign cash hauled in by frontrunner Kamala Harris.

In a collaboration called California CountsCapital Public Radio is partnering with KPBS, KQED and KPCC to report on the 2016 election. The coverage focuses on major issues and solicits diverse voices on what's important to the future of California. This is the second in a series.

Copyright 2015 KQED. For more election coverage visit kqed.org/election2016.