Boxer’s departure draws CA contenders

Boxer’s departure draws CA contenders

Barbara Boxer wikimediaSen. Barbara Boxer’s announcement last week she wouldn’t seek re-election in 2016 provided ambitious California Democrats a rare new opening for statewide office. With a number of well-known political figures contemplating a run to replace her, the future of the state Democratic Party is beginning to take shape.

Straight out of the gate, two Democrat heavyweights have already made their intentions clear. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is out.

Attorney General Kamala Harris later today will announce her candidacy. Now considered a formidable candidate with impeccable party credentials, Harris first won election as Attorney General in 2010 by a single percentage point — and drew early criticism among fellow Democrats for failing to match her ambition with commensurate experience.

Newsom is widely seen as having been humbled by Gov. Jerry Brown, who all but marginalized his impact on statewide policy: “As Willie Brown reminded me,” he once said, “Jerry’s the governor, you’re not. I called Willie and I said, ‘Thank you. I needed to read that.'” Willie Brown is the former powerful speaker of the Assembly.

Newsom announced on Facebook that his plans lodged him “firmly in the state of California, not Washington, D.C.” Although that leaves ample room for a future run for governor, Newsom did little to distract from Harris’ announcement.

Newsom’s and Harris’ divergent choices have left the playing field open enough for other California Democrats to maneuver toward candidacies of their own. Tom Steyer, the hedge-fund billionaire committed to a sweeping environmental policy, is aggressively exploring a run.

But after dumping some $74 million into the last election cycle funding similarly motivated candidates, Steyer is already getting pushback among liberals afraid that the cash would dry up if he picked up stakes for Washington.

A tale of two mayors

Meanwhile, in Southern California, another set of politicos made two sharply different decisions. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has established a reputation for popularity but not flair, opted against vying to replace Boxer. Former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, however — perhaps predictably — took the opposite stance.

Villaraigosa also served as Speaker of the Assembly and, later, chairman of the Democratic National Convention. But after leaving office as mayor, he struggled to land a job that measured up to his sense of self-importance.

Villaraigosa partied in Mexico with the likes of Charlie Sheen, driving the Democratic establishment away. Subsequently, he weathered bad publicity surrounding an affair and divorce in his personal life and a consultant’s gig with the embattled Herbalife supplements company.

Leery Republicans

As of yet, the response to Boxer’s impending departure has been muted. As The Wall Street Journal reported, the California GOP may boast a decent bench of political talent, from Gov. Jerry Brown’s recent challenger Neel Kashkari to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

But for now, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-CA, has signaled his disinterest in a Senate campaign. Former candidates for statewide office, such as 2010 gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, have stayed silent.

And former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a spokesman told the Wall Street Journal, is not considering a run. He left office in Jan. 2010 as the state budget deficit soared above $20 billion and was widely criticized for commuting the sentence in a murder case of the son of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez.

End of an era

Boxer is beloved by liberals for flexing ideological muscle sometimes not shown by her fellow Democratic senator from the Golden State, Dianne Feinstein. Claiming she is “never going to retire” entirely from political matters, Boxer drew lavish praise from top Democrats, who credit her with helping define a breakthrough for prominent women in their party. In 1993, California became the first state in history to be represented by two female senators.

Party leaders were unstinting in their praise for Boxer. According to CBS, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called her “small in size but a giant in terms of contributions to her country.”

Vice President Joe Biden described her as his “soul mate in the Senate.” And President Barack Obama said in a statement that Boxer “served the people of California for more than three decades with distinction, fighting for the issues that are close to their homes and hearts.”

Soon, the fight will be among her fellow Democrats to replace her.

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