Although former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa asserted on Thursday that he has not decided whether to run for Barbara Boxer’s vacant Senate seat, according to the Los Angeles Times, Latinos frustrated with the apparent anointment of Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris for the post may act as a catalyst for his candidacy.
Now that billionaire Tom Steyer has eschewed a run for the Senate, along with Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Villaraigosa has the most name recognition of any of the prospective opponents facing Harris.
Villaraigosa also has a singular advantage to counter the list of Democratic officials lining up behind Harris: namely, his bastion of support in Southern California comprises a larger number of voters than Harris can boast in Northern California. Not only that, but the Latino population of the state now stands at nearly 40% of the state. Villaraigosa could make history as California’s first Latino in the Senate.
Latino leaders expressed their disapproval of the Democratic machine essentially picking Harris, who is half-black and half-Indian, while ignoring Latinos. Former state Assembly speaker Fabian Nuñez said the cabal of Boxer, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and state party Chairman John Burton that supports Harris doesn’t realize that times have changed. Noting that Latinos could choose from among Villaraigosa, Reps. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) and Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) as prospective candidates, he told the Times, “The dynamics have changed since 1992. We have a role to play.”
Harris, a favorite of Barack Obama’s, has garnered the approval of Democratic luminaries such as Senators Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand, according to Politico. But two California Latino politicians told Politico that the process should not ignore the Latino vote.
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León said, “National figures should slow their roll a bit and allow this process to evolve naturally so we can all rally around one strong Democratic candidate,” while Arturo Vargas, the executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, echoed, “I think Hispanic leaders are concerned about some kind of coronation, as opposed to a real electoral campaign. There are certainly talented Latinos who could run for that seat.”
Henry Cisneros, the former Housing and Urban Development secretary, has urged Villaraigosa to run, calling him a “trailblazer in a California Latino tradition that is proud and rich in history.”
Democratic officials, concerned because of the top-two tier process in the state’s primary, worry that two strong Democratic candidates could split the vote and allow a Republican to sneak through to one of the top two positions and thus run in the general election. They prefer centering on one candidate–in this case, Harris. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has already released a statement calling her a “strong” candidate.
Villaraigosa is stealthily preparing for a possible run, speaking with Boxer and film producer Steve Bing. He said on Thursday, “I really don’t have anything else to say right now…I had many meetings over the last couple of days.” Preferring to remain noncommittal, he concluded, “When you seriously consider, you have to seriously consider.”
Another opportunity could arise in 2018 with the possible retirement of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).