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Was George Radanovich “Scozzafava’d”?

The Sacramento Bee reports that George Radanovich, a Republican from the Central Valley of California, will retire in a statement happening at this hour. This could end the Washington speculation that a wave of Democratic retirements are imminent; here’s one coming from the Republican side.

The Bee report cites Radanovich’s wife’s ovarian cancer as a possible reason for the retirement, but they also mention that former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson was looking into a primary challenge.

This is true. Amazingly enough, despite his doctrinaire right-wing beliefs, Radanovich has been facing heat all year from members of his own party. Anger over Radanovich’s vote for the TARP bank bailout had metastasized, and led to criticism that the incumbent does not pay enough attention to the needs of the district. A Central Valley businessman, Bob Smittcamp, cast about for a credible challenger, and former State Assembly Minority Leader Mike Villines had to publicly decline a run. Smittcamp may be more concerned with a local water project than Radanovich’s voting record, but he was reportedly making headway in finding a challenger from the right, perhaps with Patterson. Radanovich may have been scared out of re-election.

Given the hard-right push from the Republican base, it’s credible to speculate that this rock-ribbed Republican, a member of the far-right Republican Study Conference, was forced into retirement because of his “liberal” beliefs. That’s pretty incredible.

Does Radanovich’s retirement put the seat in play? Well, CA-19 is a pretty conservative district, one of only 11 John McCain managed to win in California (out of 53) in 2008. Its Hispanic population is growing (28.5%) due to the expanse of farmland in the district, but diversity notwithstanding, Republicans do very well out here. A tea party alternative of the Doug Hoffman variety could potentially split the vote and open it up for a Democrat like Turlock Mayor John Lazar, but that would depend on who the local Republican establishment lines up to endorse. Radanovich will reportedly tap State Senator Jeff Denham as his replacement, and while Denham may have a perceived “moderate” streak to some Republicans, he’s moved sufficiently to the right while flirting with a statewide campaign for Lieutenant Governor.

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David Dayen

David Dayen