For two weeks, ever since Sen. Barbara Boxer declared she would not run for a fifth term in 2016, hedge fund billionaire/environmental activist Tom Steyer had conducted a Hamlet-like soliloquy.
“To be a senator or not to be a senator?” Steyer figuratively asked the question in public utterances and trial balloons floated by his political advisers.
On Thursday, he deigned to tell us that it’s not to be, at least in 2016.
“This was a very hard decision,” Steyer said on the Huffington Post website, adding: “Given the imperative of electing a Democratic president, along with my passion for our state, I believe my work right now should not be in our nation’s capital but here – at home in California, and in states around the country where change is on the move.”
Democratic Party leaders, one presumes, breathed a sigh of relief. Not only would Steyer’s essentially bottomless pit of money have roiled the political waters uncomfortably, but they want him to spend his jillions on electing a Democratic president and, they hope, winning back control of the Senate.
Steyer’s retreat from the senatorial fray means, most likely, that it will be a duel between Attorney General Kamala Harris, who has already declared her candidacy, and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who’s clearly on the verge.
Harris is certainly pleased that Steyer is out because she has hoped to cruise to a senatorial victory virtually by default. The effect on Villaraigosa, presuming he runs, is less certain because having Steyer beating up on Harris might have improved his chances.
Latino political leaders have been peeved, according to numerous published accounts, that Harris was being anointed by Democratic leaders as the senator-in-waiting without waiting for Villaraigosa or some other Latino figure, such as Rep. Xavier Becerra, to decide.
Villaraigosa is almost compelled to run if he intends to advance his political career. His option would be to wait two more years, when Jerry Brown will be finishing his last term as governor and when Sen. Dianne Feinstein will, or will not, be running for re-election again.
There would be a heavy field of Democratic hopefuls for either position in 2018, which makes a one-on-one duel against Harris a better option – and waiting longer would mean his name identification and image would fade further.
There will be some Republicans running as well, although none of those being mentioned, or mentioning themselves, would have a chance of winning.
The question is whether any Republican could get enough votes to advance to a November runoff against either Harris or Villaraigosa, or the two Democrats would be running against each other again under the state’s new primary system in which the top two vote-getters advance, regardless of party.