Republicans anticipate a big election in November: the GOP is expected to hold its majority in the House of Representatives and possibly win control of the US Senate. Then, a divided party, struggling with critical demographic liabilities, will prepare to choose a nominee — and a direction — that can win the presidency for Republicans once more.
It’s not clear that the GOP will change in time to win in 2016, but the change required is all too clear: unless the party appeals to more minority voters, female voters and young voters, it won’t attract enough voters to take the White House.
That’s why candidates like Pablo Kleinman — a young, Jewish and Latino Republican entrepreneur running against Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman in Los Angeles — are so important.
Kleinman is the definition of a long shot — the California GOP is not exactly used to knocking off Democratic candidates. Sherman of course has been in the House since the last millennium, and successfully battled former Rep. Howard Berman in 2012 for the newly drawn 30th congressional district.
But his professional career (in tech start-ups), his high profile on Univision as commentator and co-host and his self-described “socially modern” policy positions have convinced Kleinman he could force a real race in what looks like to be as tough a year for Democrats as 2010.
The Argentinian-born Kleinman is only 42 years old, and has worked since he arrived in the United States at age 13. He went from helping his father start a small plastic laminate wholesaler and distributor business in Los Angeles to helping coordinate the development of FidoNet, a public access computer network that became the first email network in Latin America, according to Kleinman’s campaign website. With numerous ventures in-between, Kleinman is now publishing El Medio, which covers Middle East policy in Spanish, and runs Urbita, a network of online services targeting emerging markets that enjoys 15 million monthly viewers.
Kleinman said in an interview conducted with The Hill that he will focus his campaign on the high taxes and regulations he says are hindering start-up businesses in California and on school choice — public, private, charter, online or home schooling — because “we don’t lack for money for education, we just lack choice.” Kleinman supports immigration reform but said none of the current proposals are sufficient.
He wants a restrictive path to legalization, 15 years long, during which he believes many immigrants, including Latinos, could be persuaded to vote Republican. Kleinman said once a distinction is made between immigrants who have contributed to the U.S. economy and those who haven’t, reform should reward those contributions with an opportunity to come out of the shadows. Kleinman also sees an overhaul as critical to economic growth. “I come from the start up community in California, the biggest start up state in the country by far. We see these companies who are having trouble filling position positions because they don’t have enough people with the skills opening offices in places like Ireland because they don’t have the talent here,” he said.
The other opening Kleinman sees, beyond business-minded independents, is with disaffected Democrats. The epic, ugly 2012 contest left Berman supporters feeling alienated, he said. The Sherman/Berman race was not only the most expensive in the country but involved a near-physical fight between the two longtime colleagues. “Those people are either open to staying home or voting for a socially modern Republican,” he said.
Those modern views include Kleinman’s support for abortions that are safe, legal and rare. He also supports same sex marriage. “I don’t think government should be involved in any of this, we are the party of freedom, we should be coherent, pushing individual responsibilities at all levels, not just on our issues,” Kleinman said.
Republican gains in districts like Sherman Oaks won’t happen quickly, but candidates like Kleinman are a good start. Even a strong campaign that falls short could be a model for Republicans in all demographically diverse states.
So while the Sherman campaign may be ignoring Kleinman, Republicans would be wise not to.
Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.