Sen. Barbara Boxer Retires, and All Eyes Turn to Kamala Harris

Kamala HarrisEXPAND
Kamala Harris
Steve Rhodes / via Flickr

Sen. Barbara Boxer announced her retirement from the U.S. Senate this morning, setting off a flurry of speculation about the campaign to replace her.

"Let the wild rumpus begin," said political consultant Parke Skelton.

Boxer's retirement was no surprise, and for months a handful of bold-faced names have dominated the conversation about potential successors. And while some are likely to take a serious look at the race, Attorney General Kamala Harris is widely seen — for now anyway — as the one most likely to take the plunge.

Let's take them one at a time:

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L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti — never a likely candidate — has already taken himself out of the race.

"I love my job and I love my city and I am committed to the work here," he said in a statement.

His predecessor, Antonio Villaraigosa, is widely expected to skip this race and run for governor in 2018. 

Then there's Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. Newsom and Harris are friends, and share a political consultant, and the conventional wisdom is that they will not run against each other. The conventional wisdom could be wrong, but if it isn't, the best guess is that Newsom waits until 2018. 

That leaves Harris as the likeliest top-tier candidate to make the run. A former San Francisco district attorney, Harris is liberal — but no firebrand. The most common criticism of her is that she is too cautious and calculating.

While it's true that Boxer's retirement opens up a "logjam" at the top of California politics, which could lead to an interesting battle, it's also true that there are incentives for Democratic donors to unite around one candidate. For one thing, California campaigns are expensive, and they're even more expensive when multiple high-profile candidates are in the race.

For another, the Senate race will be held under the "top-two" primary rules. So if there's a large field of Democrats and only a couple of Republicans, the Democrats could run the risk of splitting their votes and allowing two Republicans advance to the general election. This nearly happened in last year's controller's race.

That said, a number of lower-tier candidates are likely to emerge and to run. Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat based in Burbank, is considering it. He has $2 million in the bank, and some foreign policy credentials that Harris doesn't have. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Garden Grove, — perhaps best known for her wacky Christmas cards — is also thinking about it.

There are also some wealthy people — Tom Steyer, Steve Westly — who would be credible simply due to their net worth.

"A lot of people are going to stick their heads up and test the wind," said Eric Bauman, chair of the L.A. County Democratic Party. "I think it's gonna be a while before the field winnows."

And don't forget the Republicans. Among the names getting mentioned are San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and radio host Larry Elder.


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