Clintons could influence Boxer successor

by James Poulos | January 22, 2015 10:46 am

hillary clinton, wikimediaThrough their political ups and downs, Bill and Hillary Clinton managed to steadily expand their network of professional and personal relationships. In addition to supplying them with a formidable base of loyalty and resources heading into 2016 and Hillary’s expected presidential bid, the effort has also paid dividends when it comes to exercising political influence.

Exhibit A in the pair’s power to affect high-profile races is California. There, soon-to-retire Sen. Barbara Boxer maintains an especially strong relationship with Hillary Clinton, whose nephew Zach Rodham is Boxer’s grandson. Hillary’s maiden name is Rodham.

Boxer told Rodham, in a taped interview announcing her intention not to seek re-election, “I want to help our Democratic candidate for president make history.” The New York Times interpreted[1] that as referring to Clinton becoming the first woman U.S. president.

Clinton now has the opportunity to tip the scales in favor of whomever she prefers to replace Boxer. Wielding that sort of power is not without its complications, however.

A complex landscape

In fact, the Clintons’ loyalties in California are so richly layered it’s a job all its own just to navigate them. Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and hedge-fund billionaire Tom Steyer, set to challege Attorney General Kamala Harris for Boxer’s seat under California’s “jungle primary” system, both have reason to expect the Clintons will come down on their side in the crunch.

But neither can be sure, as MSNBC reports[2]. Villaraigosa was co-chair of Hillary’s 2008 presidential campaign, but Steyer was one of her “earliest, most committed, and most generous supporters. After giving her the maximum contribution and raising more from friends, Steyer stuck with Clinton until the bitter end of her campaign, before shifting support to Barack Obama, and has remained close with the former secretary of state ever since.”

MachiavelliThe dilemma all but guarantees more Machiavellian calculations will come into play. Steyer is a huge force in Democratic politics; after a tenure as Los Angeles Mayor that some deemed a failure, Villaraigosa struggled to find a political perch that matched his ambitions.

Yet Villaraigosa has not exhausted his potential as a telegenic Latino Democrat with national star power; while Steyer is viewed as perhaps more advantageous to Democrats as a source of funds than as a sitting senator.

Progressive pressure

Adding to the challenge, progressives are beginning to coalesce around California Attorney General Kamala Harris, raising questions for the Clintons as to whether endorsing Villaraigosa or Steyer would hurt Hillary’s standing on her left flank.

As Alex Roarty reports, “Liberal activists are unlikely to persuade Elizabeth Warren to run for president against Hilary Clinton. But grassroots Democrats spoiling for a fight with their business-friendly brethren have a backup plan in mind that offers the next-best thing to a national stage: the California Senate race.”

Harris, Roarty notes, doesn’t have a lock on progressive sympathies. Villaraigosa maintains strong support among some Golden State unions, and Steyer’s uncompromising environmentalist stance puts him at the vanguard of progressive hopes to use California as a model for nationwide carbon-emissions reduction.

But Warren, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, herself already has given Harris her full-throated support in a very public way. In an email to supporters, Warren solicited funding for Harris, asking[3] her fans to provide “the grassroots support she’ll need to stand up to the powerful interests. Become an early supporter of her campaign.”

Easy way out

Despite the thicket of choices and calculations, there could be an easy way out for the Clintons, depending on how strong they determine Hillary’s position to be.

In recent days, she has stayed[4] above the fray surrounding the debate over whether to build the Keystone XL pipeline — evidence that Clinton doesn’t feel any political pressure to weigh in for or against.

Perhaps the ideal circumstance for the Clintons would be to remain popular enough to endorse a California Senate candidate after it’s all but certain who will take the lead among Democrats. As in plenty of other contact sports, when it comes to politics, timing is everything.

  1. interpreted:
  2. reports:
  3. asking:
  4. stayed:

Source URL: