Can ‘Latino Rocky’ win in California’s Senate fight?

Cue up the theme from “Rocky” in the California U.S. Senate race, only maybe with a little bit of salsa. The Oscar-winning film of a…

FILE: Assemblymember Rocky Chavez recognized Lou Gross at the Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony for his devotion of helping “lost children” in 2014. Chavez wants to run as the GOP candidate for Barbara Boxer’s Senate seat in California. (Photo: Rocky Chavez official assembly website)

Cue up the theme from “Rocky” in the California U.S. Senate race, only maybe with a little bit of salsa.

The Oscar-winning film of a nobody rising to the top of the boxing world may be a perfect analogy for what appears ready to unfold in the Golden State where Latinos are desperate for a legitimate candidate to take on frontrunner Kamala Harris, California’s attorney general who is African American.

SEE ALSO: A Senate seat in California, is it all but lost for Hispanics?

This month the Latino Rocky entered the 2016 race to succeed Senator Barbara Boxer, who is retiring after more than two decades in office.

He’s Rocky Chavez, a Republican State Assemblyman as unknown as Rocky Balboa once was, though in dire need of a charisma bypass because he’s also anti-Antonio Villaraigosa, the high-profile former Los Angeles mayor who has passed up the race despite being the apparent favorite son of California Latinos.

This Rocky is 63 and looks even older, overweight and grandfatherly — which he is. He’s also unknown beyond his Oceanside district in northern coastal San Diego County and likely wishes his name recognition in this heavily Democratic state were as high as his blood pressure.

So possibly his political obscurity could become the strongest thing going for him – yes, those Rocky Balboa-like long odds against him in taking on the heavy favorite and new media darling of the Democrats.

If so, he’s already saying the right things for this heavyweight political match.

“I’m a fighter who brings bipartisan support to issues and gets them solved,” Chavez said in formally announcing his candidacy.

A fighter, as he put it. Latino Rocky. TA-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-Ta-ta-Ta!

Rocky Chavez’s competition in the California race

A retired Marine Corps colonel, Chavez may yet wind up being the best brown hope in the first competitive U.S. Senate race in California since the early 1990s when Latinos were not yet the theoretical political power they are today.

Latinos now are the state’s largest ethnic group and account for about 20 percent of votes cast.

But with Villaraigosa deciding not to run, Latino hopes for electing their first Senator in California history are now bleak and getting only bleaker.

Kamala Harris deportation

FILE: Attorney General Kamala Harris speaks at a news conference at the State of California building in San Francisco, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012. She’s seen as the frontrunner for the Ca. Senate race. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Key Latinos have been steadily lining up with Harris, the latest being former Assembly Speaker John Perez – Villaraigosa’s cousin – who this week endorsed the attorney general for the Senate seat and was named a co-chair of her campaign.

Major California statewide elections have become costly affairs because of the size of the state and the expense of important advertising buys, professional consultants and campaign management teams – and these kinds of races pose a major hurdle for candidates without a significant donor base or high name identification, with Chavez qualifying on both counts.

According to a recent USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll, only 19 percent of the state’s registered voters could identify Chavez by name and received the backing of an even smaller 6 percent of those surveyed.

Additionally Chavez, who was elected to the Assembly in 2012, faces the same obstacles as most Republicans, as Democrats have long held all eight statewide offices and both Senate seats. The California GOP also trails the Democratic Party by 15 percentage points in registered voters.

An estimated 55 percent of Latino voters are Democrats and only 17 percent are Republicans, with the rest being independents who strongly lean Democratic.

“I think if I…run a traditional Republican race, it would be a mission impossible,” Chavez candidly admits.

So Chavez is making the campaign a choice not of traditional GOP values or even of a Latino versus an African American but of leadership, professions and patriotism.

“If things get worse overseas, who would Californians want representing them in the Senate — a lawyer from San Francisco or a Marine colonel who knows how lives can be protected and understands the importance of keeping America and her allies safe and secure?” he posed in his candidacy announcement.

So, in true Rocky style, Chavez will be presenting himself to voters as a different kind of Republican.

Rocky Chavez is a war veteran running for Senate in California.

Rocky Chavez spending time with veterans at the American GI Luncheon. The GOP candidate is a veteran himself. (Photo: Rocky Chavez official assembly website)

Indeed, while Chavez describes himself as fiscally conservative and socially moderate, he supports gay marriage and has been critical of other Republicans for blocking immigration reform.

The odds are made even longer for Chavez in that the Senate election falls in a presidential campaign year that always draw a bigger Democratic turnout, especially if Hillary Rodham Clinton, who won the state’s primary in 2008, is a candidate seeking to become America’s first woman president.

Chavez, thus, has his underdog challenge cut out for him, starting with whether he is the GOP answer to getting Latino Democrats to go against tradition and vote for him.

The odds are long.

“History has shown pretty clearly that Latinos do not cross over to vote for Republicans in California,” says veteran Democratic consultant Garry South.

“Let’s put this in perspective,” he added. “Rocky who?”

SEE ALSO: Mayor Villaraigosa’s legacy in Los Angeles: mixed and polarizing