After more than six weeks of "serious consideration," former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced today that he will not be running for Senate. His exit from the race removes another obstacle for Attorney General Kamala Harris, who remains the only major candidate in the field.
"I know that my heart and my family are here in California, not Washington, D.C.," Villaraigosa said in a prepared statement. "I have decided not to run for the U.S. Senate and instead continue my efforts to make California a better place to live, work and raise a family."
The statement suggests that Villaraigosa is still very interested in running for governor in 2018, when Jerry Brown is termed out. Even though the race is three years away, it's not too soon to start planning for it. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has already opened a committee for the race, and at this point it would be surprising if Villaraigosa does not follow suit relatively soon.
Polls showed that Villaraigosa would have faced a difficult battle against Harris. The attorney general has a strong base in Northern California, while L.A. voters — who should form Villaraigosa's base — have mixed feelings about him. Latino voters strongly support him, but African-American voters — who have traditionally been a key part of his coalition — would have sided with Harris.
Villaraigosa figures to match up a bit better against Newsom. Both suffered setbacks due to extra-marital affairs, so neither could make much headway with that line of attack. And Villaraigosa would at least be competitive for the African-American vote, which would not be the case against Harris.
However, even in the governor's race, Villaraigosa would start from behind. A PPP poll taken on Feb. 6-8 showed Villaraigosa trailing Newsom in a hypothetical six-candidate field. Newsom polled 22 percent to Villaraigosa's 13 percent.
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Villaraigosa's statement was issued by Bill Burton, who ran the Priorities USA Action super PAC in support of President Obama's reelection in 2012. Burton now works for SKD Knickerbocker, the political consulting firm. He recently relocated to Los Angeles, and would be expected to play a role in a Villaraigosa campaign for governor.
Villaraigosa got a lot of headlines over the past few weeks. He consulted far and wide about the Senate campaign, which led to a lot of bad predictions about his intentions. On Jan. 14, the L.A. Times reported that Villaraigosa was "very likely" to run, based on a quote from consultant Garry South. South was wrong again on Jan. 25, when he told Times columnist George Skelton, "I think he's going to run."
South was not alone. On Jan. 21, former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros told Politico that he expected Villaraigosa to run. On Feb. 5, former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez told the Times that Villaraigosa was "very, very close" to picking a team to run his Senate campaign. On Feb. 11, Nunez told The Hill that Villaraigosa would decide by the end of that week. "I'd bet that he's running," Nunez said. Wrong on both counts.
Villaraigosa no doubt enjoyed the attention. Now the focus will turn to Reps. Adam Schiff and Loretta Sanchez, who have been waiting in the wings for Villaraigosa to make up his mind.