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Colleen O'Connor: Can Maria Shriver Replace Dianne Feinstein?

If the senator retires, the former first lady of California may be a great replacement.

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 has represented Poway and the rest of California for years.

Feinstein’s age has also become an issue. She would be 85 years old 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 age 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 U.S. 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 the Republicans dismiss her?

Which raises a second question. If Feinstein does decide to retire, who would replace her? Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom would surely be interested, though both carry some political baggage and might draw a strong Republican challenger, thus draining off money from the national Democratic campaign.

But, here is another idea being discussed.

Who is the nonincumbent, noncandidate, nonpolitician 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.

However, she comes out the winner for not staring adoringly at her cheating husband; comes out richer by a few hundred more million dollars; and could have the case closed by the end of this year.

Look at the demographics of a perfect storm in Shriver’s favor.

She holds enviable trump and access cards.

  • Huge name recognition.
  • Celebrity and political status.
  • Access to national media cultivated over decades in politics and journalism.
  • A Democrat in a state with huge Democratic majorities.
  • A wealthy woman in her own right, who will be even more wealthy after the divorce is final—which, fortuitously could be final before year’s end.
  • A Rolodex of Kennedy supporters (Dems) and Schwarzenegger supporters (Reps).
  • A woman active in supporting women’s issues, running to replace a woman, in a state where the majority of voters are women.
  • Roman Catholic in a state which is home to the famous “Reagan Democrats”—aka, Catholics who are the swing bloc voters in most elections.
  • Great support among Hispanics (Robert Kennedy—Shriver’s uncle—and César Chávez share iconic history status).
  • Residency in Southern California. All the political power now resides among Democrats in the north (Pelosi, Boxer, Feinstein, Burton, etc.). The south wants its own senator.
  • Author of six best-selling books.
  • Winner of Peabody and Emmy Awards for television journalism—one an NBC Special on Alzheimer’s.
  • And she is best friends 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 Governor Andrew Cuomo (both higher in popularity than the president).

Clearly, the Democrats need a rising star to take hold of the public’s imagination. Shriver fits the bill and could fill the “Kennedy seat” still vacant in the U.S. Senate.

If Feinstein does retire, the U.S. Senate may 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.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this column stated that 46 percent of the people surveyed said they would vote for Feinstein rather than 43 percent. The column has been edited to include the correct number of 43 percent. Patch regrets the error.

Gail July 09, 2011 at 05:58 PM
You make a compelling argument. If I lived in CA I would definitely consider her as I think she is a great lady. Gail Findley

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