David vs. Goliath. Don Quixote tilting at windmills. Climbing Everest without a Sherpa.
Pick your metaphor. Elizabeth Emken has heard them all and doesn't like any of them. She rejects any notion that her campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is futile.
"I'm going to run as hard as I can every single day because I do believe in the process," she said in a recent interview a few miles from her Danville home.
She offered her own metaphor, likening June's "top two" primary -- in which she beat out 22 other contenders to join Feinstein on the general election ballot -- to "The Hunger Games": Twenty-four went into the forest and only two emerged.
But there's little doubt as to whom the public sees as the heroine Katniss here, and Emken's tireless campaigning and tweeting hasn't improved her standing.
A recent California Business Roundtable/Pepperdine University poll showed that Feinstein had widened her lead to almost 23 points.
Also, Emken's fundraising has been anemic. Feinstein's campaign, despite having lost millions to campaign treasurer Kindee Durkee's embezzlement, had almost $3.1 million in cash on hand as of June 30, while Emken's had about $27,000.
And this past week, a Republican slate mailer company sued her for breach of contract, claiming she still owed $65,000 yet had used campaign funds to repay a $200,000 personal loan she made to her campaign in the spring. Her spokesman said it's a pending legal matter that must be left to attorneys and the court.
"I'm not a millionaire, a billionaire, a CEO or a movie star," Emken said in the interview, before the lawsuit was filed, referring to recent statewide GOP candidates such as Carly Fiorina, Meg Whitman and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Nor is this her first campaign; she finished fourth among four in 2010's GOP primary for East Bay Rep. Jerry McNerney's seat.
What she is, she said, is an ordinary person: the mom of a severely autistic 20-year-old son; a spouse who, like her husband, has worked to pay their mortgage; a level-headed businesswoman aspiring to public service. "Everything in my background says I'll do what I say I will," she said.
Emken said she has a fighting chance. But San Jose State University political-science professor Larry Gerston respectfully disagrees.
"If Feinstein drops dead, I think she would have a chance," Gerston said before quickly adding:
"No, even if that happened, Feinstein would still probably win."
Gerston said that when you come out of the primary with 12.6 percent of the GOP vote as Emken did, "you're not going to get very far."
The California Republican Party's endorsement might've helped Emken reach that level of primary support, anointing her from among a GOP crowd that also included a surfing rabbi; an attorney-dentist active in the "birther" movement that questions President Barack Obama's citizenship; and an 83-year-old man who scaled California's highest mountain as a metaphor for his campaign.
It's a tribute to Feinstein that deep-pocketed, recognizably named Republicans don't dare take her on, Gerston said. "She's one of the very few who has found that moderation works," pleasing liberals on issues such as environmental protection and gun control while not angering conservatives as much as many of her Democratic peers do.
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