The 2016 political campaign season has scarcely begun, so of course it’s time to begin noodling about 2018 – and particularly the governorship that Jerry Brown will finally relinquish.
Five Democrats – all middle-aged men, interestingly – are emitting varying levels of vibration about running.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who rose to political prominence as mayor of San Francisco and pulled back from seeking the governorship in 2010, is the only declared candidate. He’s busily raising money and trying to get as much media attention as his powerless office allows.
John Chiang, state controller before segueing into the state treasurer’s office in 2014, all but announced his candidacy on Tuesday, telling a group of business executives, in response to a question, that he’s “strongly leaning toward running,” and adding, “I’m almost there.”
Antonio Villaraigosa had a mixed record as mayor of Los Angeles and has been out of office for three years, but he is trying to maintain a presence by traveling the state on what he describes as an effort to educate himself about its issues.
Former Controller Steve Westly, who made an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2006, has maintained a low public profile, but has been quietly talking to political insiders and interest groups about giving it another try. He has considerable personal wealth.
Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer has been trying to gain some attention not only on climate change but on gasoline prices and on income equality, about which he obviously has personal knowledge.
Politics being what they are, it’s highly unlikely that all five would actually run when the time comes, two years hence, to make it official.
Of the quintet, Newsom and Chiang, who hold office and are most open about their intentions, are also the most likely to follow through, while Villaraigosa and Westly may be the least likely.
As a billionaire, Steyer can wait the longest to declare because he doesn’t have to do what Newsom is doing now and Chiang will likely be doing soon – hitting up wealthy individuals and interest groups for many millions of campaign dollars.
Steyer has the luxury of waiting to see how the field shakes out before committing. That said, California political history is littered with the carcasses of wealthy, self-financing candidates for major office.
Were five (or more) Democrats to run for governor in 2018 and the Republicans put up an even semi-plausible candidate, chances are it would be a conventional, R-vs.-D contest in November.
The list of potentially viable Republican candidates virtually begins and ends with San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, but he has not shown any overt interest in running.
However, were the Democratic field to narrow to two, chances would be strong for a D-vs.-D runoff under the state’s “top-two” primary system.
That would be an opportunity for Republican voters and independents to be decisive in the outcome, and would make for a particularly interesting contest.