- Associated Press - Saturday, August 13, 2016

LOS ANGELES (AP) - With less than three months until Election Day, Loretta Sanchez is running out of time to narrow the gap with front-runner Kamala Harris in California’s U.S. Senate race.

What was once expected to be a tough, barrier-shattering contest between two minority women is looking increasingly lopsided.

Both women are Democrats, but President Barack Obama’s decision last month to endorse Harris - the state attorney general - was a capstone in her ascent.

She’s had an edge in polls and fundraising from the start and is reaping all the advantages of being the favorite of the Democratic establishment in a state where the party has a hammerlock on political power.

Meanwhile, Sanchez, a House member from Orange County, has been struggling to raise money she desperately needs for advertising to change the trajectory of the race.

She’s also had a series of verbal flubs and finds herself in the odd position of sharply criticizing her party’s president for taking sides in the race, while she tries to lure Republican votes in hopes of gaining traction in the race.

“What’s shaping the dynamics of this race are Kamala Harris’ superiority in financial resources, and that she was able to lock down the vast majority of the key endorsements,” said Democratic media consultant Roy Behr, whose clients have included the senator vacating the seat, retiring Democrat Barbara Boxer.

Without a surge of money into the campaign “for all intents and purposes, this race is never even going to happen,” said Behr, who is not affiliated with either current candidate.

The race has historic overtones. Sanchez could be one of the first Latinas in the U.S. Senate, and Harris just its second elected black woman and the first of Indian descent. But the contest has become a barely visible undercard, overshadowed by the daily drama of the presidential race.

Everyone has an opinion on Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton. But the low-key Senate contest has so far gone unnoticed by Julissa Garcia, 18, a veterinary student at East Los Angeles College.

Garcia, who has yet to register to vote, shook her head side to side and looked uncertain when asked if she recognized the name of either candidate.

“I don’t know enough to make an informed decision,” echoed fellow student Joseph Holguin, 32, a registered independent who was sharing a picnic table with Garcia on campus.

It hasn’t helped that the Senate race has been politically one-sided, with the two Democrats promoting close to mirror images on immigration reform, the Affordable Care Act, climate change, boosting the minimum wage and abortion rights.

Fallout from the presidential race has been shaping other races around the U.S. But with so much in common on big issues, Harris and Sanchez have dueled over who is better prepared for the office - a 10-term congresswoman or a career prosecutor.

Harris, 51, and Sanchez, 56, landed in a November runoff after topping a field of 34 candidates, mostly obscure contenders in the June primary. Under California election rules, only the top two vote-getters advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.

The matchup marks the first time since voters started electing senators a century ago that Republicans will be absent from California’s general election ballot, reaffirming the GOP’s ailing condition in the state where Democrats hold every statewide office and a 3.1-million edge in registered voters.

In a significant blow to Sanchez, Harris has captured endorsements from the Legislature’s Democratic leaders, who are both Hispanics.

An independent Field Poll last month pegged Harris’ lead at 15 points. A nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California also released in July gave Harris a nearly 2-1 edge, 38 percent to 20 percent, with the remainder either undecided or not planning to vote.

There’s still time for the race to pivot, but Sanchez needs to stitch together a coalition that would rely on her dominating among Latinos, capturing a slew of Republican votes and boosting her take among independents and Democrats.

However, half of the Republicans in the state are so discouraged with the one-party ballot that they won’t bother to vote, recent polling has found.

Sanchez is known for her lively personality, which to some makes her refreshingly unrehearsed but others see as too reckless. She recently had to issue a clarification after appearing to imply in a TV interview that Obama endorsed Harris in part because they are both black. She earlier had to explain statements about Muslims and American Indians.

Her chief strategist, Bill Carrick, argues that there are enough undecided voters to close the gap, but he also acknowledges that raising money has been a challenge in the Democrat-on-Democrat race.

At the end of June, Sanchez had just over $900,000 in her campaign account, about one-third of Harris’ financial stash. Boxer spent roughly $28 million defending her seat in 2010.

Republican consultant Mike Madrid, who closely follows Hispanic voting trends, said Sanchez has the opportunity to emphasize crossover issues that appeal to Latinos and Republicans, such as education reform and the shrinking middle class.

But “the misstep after misstep has just been mystifying,” he said. Bringing together such a first-time coalition “is not going to happen on its own.”

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