Capitol Alert

Villaraigosa ‘seriously’ considering Senate run; Steyer to decide soon

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at a Sacramento Press Club lunch in 2011. California Sen. Barbara Boxer's announcement not to seek a fifth term has unleashed a long-expected wave of speculation about who will challenge for the seat.
Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at a Sacramento Press Club lunch in 2011. California Sen. Barbara Boxer's announcement not to seek a fifth term has unleashed a long-expected wave of speculation about who will challenge for the seat. hamezcua@sacbee.com

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Saturday he is looking closely at running for the seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer of California.

“Too many Californians are struggling to make ends meet, pay the bills, and send their kids to college,” the 61-year-old Democrat said in a statement. “They are looking for progressive leaders in Washington who will fight for them, like Senator Boxer has done for over 20 years. The urgency of the needs of the people of this great state have convinced me to seriously consider looking at running for California’s open Senate seat.”

Villaraigosa, who left office in 2013, is one of several high-profile Democrats who may have their eye on Boxer’s seat in 2016. Others include Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Kamala Harris, environmental activist Tom Steyer and U.S. Reps. Jackie Speier, Loretta Sanchez and John Garamendi. Among the Republicans, former state GOP chairmen Tom Del Beccaro and Duf Sundheim are plotting runs.

Steyer appears to be moving the most swiftly toward a resolution. The billionaire climate-change activist and Democratic benefactor was holding meetings on a possible candidacy over the weekend. He has been polling and talking with a wide range of people ahead of his decision, which is expected in the coming days.

Villaraigosa, a former speaker of the state Assembly, had a high-profile turn as chairman of the Democratic National Convention in 2012. He previously has expressed interest in running for the open governor’s office in 2018, when Democrat Jerry Brown will finish his fourth and final term. But the 2016 election could present a more favorable electorate. Democrats, Latinos and Southern Californians all participate in greater proportion in presidential elections. Villaraigosa would be the state’s first Latino senator.

“He’s a very charismatic and engaging candidate who works very hard,” said Rose Kapolczynski, a Democratic strategist who helped guide Boxer’s campaigns.

Kapolczynski suggested that turnout in the Senate primary could be further increased if voters viewed the race as historically significant. She pointed to the 1992 election, known as “the year of the woman,” when Californians sent Boxer and her longtime Senate colleague Dianne Feinstein to Washington. Harris, who is African American and South Asian, also would present a first for the state.

Higher turnout would be especially important for Villaraigosa because voters in Los Angeles and surrounding areas typically participate in lower numbers than their counterparts in Northern California. Harris and Newsom are from the Bay Area.

Meanwhile, the search continues for a Republican who can raise the kind of money needed to mount a credible challenge. On Saturday, former Rep. Tom Campbell, who has unsuccessfully taken on Boxer and Feinstein, said he doesn’t anticipate running again.

Sundheim, a moderate, told supporters shortly after Boxer’s announcement that he would consider getting into the race. Del Beccaro said his potential campaign would focus on growing the state’s workforce and working to improve its schools and colleges. He said despite the uphill nature of the race, Republicans need to put forward a positive message. “I am not going to outspend the Democrats, but that doesn’t mean we can’t out-communicate them,” he said.

Focus in the coming days will be on Steyer, the founder of NextGen Climate and its related climate-focused super PAC. Known nationally for his opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline and as an ideological and financial counterweight to the conservative Koch brothers, Steyer is fresh off a rough midterm election cycle for Democrats.

In California, however, he has built up a sizable network of progressive activists and groups and has also been talked about as a possible candidate for governor when Brown steps aside.

In 2012, he spent about $35 million to pass a statewide ballot initiative that changed the way multi-state corporations are taxed and directed the money to energy-saving projects in schools and public buildings. Two years earlier, he helped defeat a separate measure funded by oil companies that sought to suspended the state’s landmark greenhouse-gas emissions law.

Call Christopher Cadelago, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @ccadelago.

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