Boxer Out, And The Scramble To Replace The California Democrat in 2016 Is On

Senator Barbara Boxer, the powerful Democrat from California and longtime chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, will not be running for reelection to the US Senate in 2016. Asked by her eldest grandson in a video message to her supporters if she plans to step down in the next election, Boxer, who has held the seat since 1992, said that while she is “never going to retire [from politics]” she will not be seeking another Senate term.

Speculation about a possible retirement has been swirling around Boxer, 74, for sometime now and there is no shortage of young ambitious liberal political stars in the Golden State who look in the mirror every morning and see a future US senator. And while Republicans did make some gains in California in 2014, it is almost certain they will not be inaugurating a new junior senator in 2017.

(John Heilman of Bloomberg Politics has a good video on the matter here).

The names most often mentioned are Lt. Governor Gavin Newson and California Attorney General Kamila Harris. While both aim for higher office, they aren’t expected to run against each other in 2016 because they are friends and also share the same donor base. The most likely scenario is for Harris to run for Senate next year and for Newson to take over the governorship after sitting Governor Jerry Brown becomes term-limited out.

Eric Garceitti, the current mayor of Los Angeles, has already put out a statement that he will not seek Boxer’s seat.

Some more interesting potential candidates are former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the billionaire hedgefund manager cum environmental activist Tom Steyer.

Villaraigosa is popular in the state but his mayorship of the state’s largest city is considered less than stellar, with high debt and continually degrading public services. Politico is reporting that the ex-mayor has resigned his position at Edlemen public relations firm, signaling a possible return to politics.

Were Tom Steyer to run he would have an immediate cash advantage which would allow him to forgo most fundraising obligations. In 2014, Steyer spent tens of millions of dollars supporting pro-environmentalist candidates but it was mostly considered a waste since his most of his candidates that weren’t already in safe districts lost.

It is also unclear whether Steyer can unite the party’s wealthier progressive base whose’ positions on issues like energy are diverging from it’s working-class allies who are centrist and concerned about jobs and lower living costs. The fact that Steyer is a billionaire could also harm the party’s image as a champion for the poor and would provide a significant opening for either a centrist Democrat or a Republican to mobilize populist support against a rich San Francisco liberal.

The GOP, for its part, has become an endangered species in the state in the last two decades and is unlikely to field a candidate capable of winning the seat. The best the party can hope for is an extremely crowded Democratic field that will split the vote enough so that a weaker general election candidate will face off against a Republican with unified party support and enough sway with independents and moderate Democrats.

Where this Republican will come from is anyone’s guess. Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who ran against Boxer in 2010 and lost by double digits, has already ruled out a second run as she prepares for a possible presidential campaign.

Update: California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom has made a public announcement on Monday that he will not be running for Boxer’s seat in 2016. This makes a run by state Attorney General Kamila Harris more likely.   

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