Photo of Harris: Paul Chinn, San Francisco Chronicle
Updated at the bottom
Attorney General Kamala Harris will make it official on Tuesday that she is running for the U.S. Senate, according to unidentified advisors talking to reporters not for attribution. "She's not testing the waters. She's charting the course. She's in with both feet," an advisor told the Los Angeles Times. The Sacramento Bee version of the quote hits the same note: "'This isn’t a trial balloon,' said an aide to Harris who asked for anonymity. 'This is a takeoff.'" The announcement is expected in the form of an online post. No point in a press conference anymore.
So that takes care of the liberal Bay Area Democratic side of the equation. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is out, reportedly with an eye on the race for governor in 2018. He announced today that he won't be running for the Senate. Antonio Villaraigosa is sizing up the race from Southern California, and billionaire investor and environmental activist Tom Steyer has a team that is securing website names and taking other steps in preparation for a possible run on the Democratic side. That had Salon's Luke Brinker hoping Steyer doesn't pick this moment to make his first run for office.
That Steyer is thinking about running for Boxer’s seat shouldn’t come as a surprise. During the midterm elections, in which Steyer spent $74 million supporting Democratic candidates and outside groups, he preserved the option of one day seeking public office himself. And while Boxer’s retirement offers him the opportunity to do just that, Steyer should think twice before taking the plunge.
My skepticism of a Steyer bid doesn’t stem from anything objectionable in his worldview. Although he’s associated almost exclusively with climate change activism, Steyer has also cultivated ties to California labor groups and helped pass a state ballot initiative that cracked down on corporate tax loopholes, suggesting that despite his immense personal wealth, he’s at least decent on economic issues. With an estimated $1.6 billion net worth, the patrician Steyer may seem a peculiar face for a Democratic Party whose base increasingly demands a populist approach to economic issues, but Steyer has lavished campaign funds on candidates whose policies don’t serve his immediate economic interest; you can hardly write him off as just another billionaire in it for himself.
That said, it’s unclear why Steyer needs a Senate seat — or, for that matter, why the Senate needs Steyer. Other Democrats who may enter the race have longer track records on a broader range of issues than Steyer does; as attorney general, for instance, Harris has championed gun control, cracked down on predatory lenders, and agitated for consumer privacy. Perhaps Steyer is just as strong on such issues, but given that Harris and any other Democrat with a serious chance at winning the seat share his views on his signature issue, it’s unclear what the climate change crusader brings to the table.
By the way, there are some Republicans interested in the precious open seat in the Senate — and during my LA Observed on KCRW segment today I argued not to just dismiss the possibility that a Republican could be competitive, especially if the Democrats try to kill each other off. It would take a good candidate and some luck to win the race for the GOP, but hey, Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor. The Republican candidates said to be looking at the race include Assemblyman Rocky Chavez of Oceanside and former state part chairs Tom Del Beccaro and Duf Sundheim.
Some interesting tweets from political reporters on the whole Boxer - Harris - Newsom - Villaraigosa situation:
To be blunt, Kamala Harris hopes to be president someday. May be convinced U.S. Senate a better launching pad than California governor.— Mark Z. Barabak (@markzbarabak) January 12, 2015
Recap, for those pondering north-south rivalry in CA Senate race: NorCal tends to outvote SoCal despite population diff. Advantage Kamala— Mark Z. Barabak (@markzbarabak) January 13, 2015
If @KamalaHarris is elected to US Senate, @JerryBrownGov would appoint the new Attorney General.— Anthony York (@anthonyyork49) January 13, 2015
Along with the NorCal v. SoCal subplot on a @KamalaHarris vs. @villaraigosa senate race: In '08, Harris backed Obama; Villaraigosa Clinton— Phil Willon (@philwillon) January 13, 2015
Harris has strong Hollywood backing, with support in her last campaign from Halle Berry, Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, among others.— Ted Johnson (@tedstew) January 13, 2015
* Tuesday morning update: Harris rebranded her political website to announce her Senate run. "I’m excited to share with you that I’m launching my campaign to represent the people of California in the United States Senate. Your support has been crucial to me every step of the way, and I’m asking you to help me build a grassroots campaign that reaches every community of California," the message begins.