Billionaire hedge-fund enviro-liberal Tom Steyer, after an annoying Hamlet act, bowed out last week and, thanks to the diligent John Hrabe, we also know that Treasurer John Chiang is a no-go.
Sure, there is still a clutch of Democratic members of Congress “seriously considering” the race for Barbara Boxer’s seat.
Xavier Becerra, John Garamendi, Raul Ruiz, Loretta Sanchez, Adam Schiff and Jackie Speier, among others, have all popped up in various stories. But, c’mon, they’re manikins compared to Tony V, and anyway would risk safe House seats for a decidedly far-fetched political proposition.
And with Republican registration at a paltry 28%, chances are slim and slimmer for a serious GOP contender to defeat early front-runner Attorney General Kamala Harris, despite the endearing effort by our pal, and former U.S. Representative, Ernie Konnyu to nominate himself for the fool’s errand.
So: Tony V must suck it up and answer the eternal question first propounded by Calbuzzer Emeritus V.I. Lenin: What is to be done?
Run, Tony, Run: After discussing it with about a dozen California political insiders, several of whom have spoken in detail with Antonio, (boy, do we not miss the grind of doing Actual Reporting for a living) we bet he joins the race fairly soon: “He’s more in than not in,” said one Tony V confidant.
And notwithstanding Willie Brown’s scornfully creepy attempt to keep him out, on behalf of ex-paramour Harris, Villaraigosa should run, for at least three important reasons:
1 – It’s a golden opportunity. By 2018, when there may be one or two more big openings (for governor and, possibly, for Senate, should ageless wonder Dianne Feinstein opt out), Tony V will have been out of office and largely invisible for five years – an eternity in political time. Even if he doesn’t triumph in 2016 – and he could – he would win by losing, in keeping his name out there, which would serve him well two years hence.
2 – California deserves a competitive race. Harris shouldn’t have the seat handed to her: that wouldn’t be good for voters – or for Harris. There hasn’t been a robust debate on national issues, like the economy, environment, education, national security, social justice and foreign policy, for starters, since Feinstein and Boxer first captured the state’s Senate seats in 1992.
3 – Calbuzz needs a story. Fair warning: If Villaraigosa doesn’t get in and stir up a real contest, we’re gonna’ have to return to the arduous task of elevating our short game.
Secret memo to Willie: it’s not 1990 anymore: Tony V and his allies ought to be especially motivated by Brown’s aforementioned, arrogant argument (as reported by the SacBee’s hard-charging Chris Cadelago) that Villaraigosa should defer to Harris:
“His loyalty and his relationship with her should be so valuable, and he should, in my opinion, see it as an opportunity to demonstrate that.”
Seriously? How pompous and presumptuous, even for the unfathomably vain ex-Speaker and S.F. Mayor, can one person be?
“Loyalty is not a one way road show and this potential US Senate campaign is bigger than Antonio,” as Fabian Nunez, another former Speaker and close ally of Villaraigosa’s, put it to Calbuzz.
“I don’t think he or Kamala needs to step aside. They are both solid leaders and provide a real choice for California and its diversity,” he added. “Antonio loves Kamala like a sister, but his commitment to public service and history of accomplishments in California makes him more than a good candidate.”
Dissing Latino Interests. One leading Latino political figure put it less diplomatically: “It’s more than insulting to suggest that the most prominent Latino in California should just step aside because the Bay Area political machine decided that we don’t really matter.”
Villaraigosa is well positioned to run as a business-friendly moderate with a Southern California base, having fought principled battles with the teachers and public employees unions as L.A. mayor, when he also buffed his credentials on the environment and managed complex political coalitions.
He’d be starting from behind, given that Harris is a statewide officeholder with two successful elections and some braggable accomplishments under her Donna Karan belt. Her handlers put stock in a couple of robo polls they’ve had done showing her well ahead. “She’s the real deal and he doesn’t have a lock on any constituency,” a non-aligned pollster told us.
Please keep in mind, however, that the election is in two years, not some special next month. And running from behind is a position Tony V is likely to relish:
“I don’t know a better retail politician,” one Democratic insider enthused to us. “In every competitive race he’s been in, he has been the underdog.”
In addition to a potential base among Latinos (if he can get them to turn out), he also might have some appeal to certain deep-pocket Democrats. Harris was immediately endorsed by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren – the darling of the Democratic left and the bête noir of Wall Street bankers – whose backing could be flipped as a matter of political ju-jitsu, i.e. Tony V could say to the moneybags, “Who do you want in Washington, another Elizabeth Warren or me?”
DiFi vs Babs. Looked at another way, he could position himself as a grown-up Feinstein type and let Harris run as a Fight, Fight, Fight Boxer clone.
Of course, Harris is the attorney general and a lot of potential corporate Democrats with business before the state may be afraid of opposing her. It’s not an unreasonable fear, given that if she loses for Senate she’s still AG for two years.
But with federal limits on contributions — $2,600 per person – we’d likely see a lot of wealthy Democrats giving to both candidates, arguing that they just want to see a vigorous debate for the sake of the party (not that either camp would be happy about that).
At this juncture, our Department of Leadership Assessment, King and Queen-Making Division, honestly doesn’t know who’d make a better U.S. Senator. Harris and Villaraigosa both have strengths and weaknesses. (Although the first to sit down with us would improve his or her chances of winning our sympathies, given our widely known reputation as access whores).
In the end, however, the most crucial consideration is that after Obama’s 2012 walkover vs. Romney and Neel Kashkari’s puny 2014 challenge to Governor Brown, we haven’t had a truly memorable race since eMeg v Gandalf in 2010. Either Antonio runs or it’s back to nap time for us.