Feeding frenzy. Musical chairs. Horse race. Free-for-all.
Whatever analogy one prefers, it applies to what will happen in California politics – especially Democratic Party politics – now that Sen. Barbara Boxer has made it official she won’t seek a fifth term in 2016.
Her announcement Thursday, via an online video, breaches what has been a political logjam. The state’s three most desirable political offices have been locked up by senior citizen Democrats, frustrating generation-younger politicians.
There may be a dozen potential candidates who must now decide whether to run.
One factor is the possibility that Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who will be 85 in 2018, could also retire; another is the certainty that Gov. Jerry Brown will relinquish the governorship then.
Attorney General Kamala Harris and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom are the top tier of potential candidates.
However, it’s highly unlikely that they would run against each other for the Senate in 2016, particularly since there will be at least one other major office opening up two years later.
The second tier includes wealthy environmental activist Tom Steyer, who clearly yearns for political power and could finance his own campaign, and several occupants of statewide offices who, having just been elected or re-elected in 2014, would have a “free ride” in 2016 – running without risking their current offices.
Could Secretary of State Alex Padilla become California’s first Latino senator? How about Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, who wears ambition on his sleeve? Treasurer John Chiang or Controller Betty Yee might yearn to be the state’s first Chinese American senator.
Although a congressional seat is often a steppingstone to the Senate in other states and Boxer made that move in 1992, California’s sheer size makes it very difficult for any current member of the state’s congressional delegation to run. With 53 members, none is known to more than a tiny slice of the state’s voters.
Republicans? It will be a high-turnout presidential election, which dims already scant GOP chances.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice might be the party’s best hope, if she’d run. Former business executive Carly Fiorina, who lost to Boxer in 2010 and has been flirting with a presidential bid, is also a potential GOP candidate. San Diego’s newly elected mayor, Kevin Faulconer, is another, as is Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin.
If, as is likely, a Democrat wins the seat, Californians should hope that it’s someone who could protect the state’s interests in what may still be a Republican-controlled Senate.
While Boxer has been a favorite of liberal activists for her outspoken advocacy of their issues, Feinstein does the heavy lifting on unsexy, but vital, California issues such as water, and if she’s also planning to retire, we’ll need someone to do the yeoman’s work.
Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, sacbee.com/dan-walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.