The Wall Street Journal started a small media boomlet last week with a casual mention that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti might be on Hillary Clinton's medium-long list of potential running mates. Actually, the boomlet started with whomever planted the seed in the WSJ's ear. We are not here to speculate on who that may have been, but to look at how the news, so to speak, got spread around and received.
First thing you notice is that, beyond the Wall Street Journal, Garcetti's inclusion really wasn't much of a national news story. The coverage led with the name of Elizabeth Warren and whether she might actually get the nod, along with the omission of Bernie Sanders as a possible selection. There were nine possible candidates listed in all: not a "short list" by any means. Garcetti's association with the group made the second item in Politico's California Playbook newsletter, which treated the news as "the Clinton campaign leaked a VP short-list that included two CA politicians." The other Californian was Rep. Xavier Becerra.
Politico quoted an analysis from Vox shooting down both names.
Vox says of Becerra that "he’s actually qualified to become president." A Stanford-educated Mexican American "who would be well-positioned to slam Trump on his racist immigration rhetoric — which has Becerra already done....he speaks perfect Spanish, and he has a more compelling backstory as the child of first-generation immigrants and the first in his family to go to college. He's been earning his stripes as a Clinton surrogate, campaigning in 10 states and doing numerous TV hits on her behalf during the primary race."
Reasons arguing against Becerra, per Vox:
He successfully pushed Bill Clinton to commute the sentence of Carlos Vignali, a cocaine trafficker serving a 15-year federal sentence, at the behest of Vignali's father, who donated nearly $14,000 to Becerra.
His disastrous 2001 campaign for mayor of Los Angeles (he ended up getting only 6 percent of the vote) drew criticism when it had a woman pose as LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina and make robocalls attacking Antonio Villaraigosa, a rival of Becerra’s who'd be elected mayor four years later. After the calls prompted an investigation, campaign staffers erased their copy of the message; Molina was furious.
Now Vox's take on Garcetti:
The case for picking him: Well, for one thing, he actually got elected mayor of LA, unlike Becerra. Garcetti, who has served since 2013, is young (45) and a Rhodes scholar, and would be the second Jewish person ever on a national ticket, after Joe Lieberman. He also has Mexican-American ancestry, which would make him the first Latino running mate, just like Castro, Perez, and Becerra; he also speaks passable Spanish.
Unlike San Antonio, LA has a strong mayor system, so Garcetti is actually running the show. The city's powers are somewhat limited by the distinction between the city and Los Angeles County, but Garcetti still has some accomplishments to tout.
After initially calling for a $13.25 an hour minimum wage, he ultimately signed a $15 one into law, beating California as a whole to the punch (though he’s said it’s a bad idea nationally and maybe statewide too). He has offered housing to unauthorized minor immigrants in LA as they await court proceedings, a notable win for pro-immigrant activists, and he’s a vocal advocate for making LA more transit-based and less car-dominated.
And despite endorsing Obama early in the 2008 cycle, and despite Bill Clinton’s endorsement of his rival in 2013, Garcetti campaigned diligently for Hillary throughout the primaries, especially in the runup to the vote in California.
The case against picking him: Garcetti is all but anonymous nationally — and unlike, say, Sherrod Brown and Tim Kaine, the place where people have heard of him is going to vote for Democrats no matter what. While he has national roots, he doesn’t have the kind of community standing that, say, Becerra or Perez does. And it's basically unprecedented to elevate a mayor directly to a national ticket, even a mayor of a giant city wielding real power. There just isn't much precedent for picking someone like Garcetti over a senator or governor.
And that's the main argument against Garcetti. Mayors, especially relatively new unknown ones, don't bring anything to a national campaign ticket. The reason these names get dropped is to test for a reaction, and also to give a little free image boost to friends of the big candidate. Garcetti got the appropriate mileage out of the WSJ mention by waiting to be asked about it by various local media, and then saying he's happy with his current job and isn't running for anything except reelection. (Left unsaid: Speculation that right after his reelection campaign next year, he might run statewide for governor.) Garcetti happened to have an Ask the Mayor segment scheduled for KNX radio right after the news broke, so he was able to get his denial on the record there. “I think it’s probably one story of thousands we’ll hear on things like this,” Garcetti said on KNX. “And I guess I’m a little old-fashioned. I’m not looking for a new job. I have a great one right now, and that’s being mayor of the city.
He also was asked by reporters at a gathering in Burbank, which after all is the point: make sure your potential voters see you being treated as VP material, even if you aren't really a candidate.
At an event for Los Angeles County mayors in Burbank Thursday, Garcetti said he has not been contacted by Clinton’s team and was surprised to be in the newspaper's list of potential running mates.
"I’m not looking for a new job. I have a great job right now. I’m running for reelection and that’s what I’m focused on," he told reporters.
Garcetti's political consultant earlier in the day batted away suggestions raised in The Wall Street Journal story that the mayor is on a short list of potential vice presidential candidate choices.
Bill Carrick, who handles Garcetti's campaign activity, labeled Wednesday's Wall Street Journal article as "false speculation." "There’s nothing going on," he said.
Dakota Smith of the LA Daily News called some political consultant types to get their spin, and they sounded a lot like Carrick.
“From a political perspective, it doesn’t make a lot of sense,” said Sacramento-based Democratic strategist Steve Maviglio. “Clinton has a lot of close or closer relationships with other politicians.”
Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus of political science at Cal State LA, said the 45-year-old mayor would bring youth and energy to the Clinton campaign. The mayor also has a liberal-progressive bent that could play well with supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
But in terms of Garcetti’s help in securing California votes, Regalado said, Clinton already is likely to win the Golden State, which is reliably Democratic. “It’s not a battleground state,” he said.
Also this: "A political strategist familiar with Clinton’s campaign, who requested anonymity, told the Southern California News Group that Clinton’s team lets names be floated as possible VP picks as a reward for his or her support. That doesn’t mean the candidate is being vetted, he added."
There is a Draft Eric Garcetti for VP page on Crowdpac that is off to a slow start: five pledges totaling just $184.