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Villaraigosa Bows Out Of Senate Race, Leaving Others To Battle Harris

By Michael Finnegan and Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — Antonio Villaraigosa’s announcement Tuesday that he would skip the contest for Barbara Boxer’s seat in the U.S. Senate leaves an opening for an array of less-known Californians to take on California Attorney General Kamala Harris, the only major candidate so far.

The former Los Angeles mayor was uniquely positioned to enter the campaign with a broad foundation of support, most solidly among Latinos in Southern California.

But after more than six weeks of private consultations with political leaders and campaign consultants, Villaraigosa, 62, bowed out of contention.

“I know that my heart and my family are here in California, not Washington, D.C.,” Villaraigosa said in a written statement that hinted of his enduring ambition to run instead for governor in 2018.

“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. We have come a long way, but our work is not done and neither am I.”

Harris, a fellow Democrat and former San Francisco district attorney, expects to dominate the Senate contest in the Bay Area, a major advantage in the June 2016 primary. She has been raising money for weeks. She also has a head start in lining up supporters, including law enforcement groups rallying behind the state’s top prosecutor.

Villaraigosa’s exit could draw heightened interest in the race from other Southern California Democrats who are weighing whether to run. They include Reps. Loretta Sanchez of Garden Grove, Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles and Adam Schiff of Burbank.

But all of them lack the public name recognition that Villaraigosa gained in more than two decades as a staple of news coverage in California’s largest media market.

“Any member of Congress is not particularly well-known statewide, so that’s definitely a challenge,” said Parke Skelton, a Democratic strategist who has worked for a number of potential Senate candidates.

Much can occur, however, in the next 19 months. Boxer’s improbable victory in the 1992 Senate race is testament to the potential of relatively obscure House members to vault to the head of the field in a tough statewide contest.

But it’s not cheap to run for Senate, and federal donation limits make it an arduous task to raise money.

“We operate in a completely different political world now, and the amount of money it takes to run and win in California is daunting,” said Democratic campaign strategist Katie Merrill. “I think that’s one of the reasons that you haven’t seen more people jump into the race.”

Still, Harris was elected attorney general in 2010 by a razor-thin margin, and she has yet to be tested in the glaring media spotlight of a big-arena contest like that for U.S. Senate.

The campaign carries little professional risk for Harris. If she loses, she can keep serving as attorney general until her term expires at the end of 2018.

But members of Congress cannot seek re-election and run for another office at the same time, so any who run against Harris must give up their jobs at the end of their current terms.

Of those known to be considering the Senate race, Schiff has the most money in the bank — more than $2.1 million.
Sanchez and Becerra would each depend on a Latino base in Southern California to buttress their candidacies, as would former Army Secretary Louis Caldera, a one-time Los Angeles state assemblyman who is exploring a candidacy. Their big challenge would be to build support among other groups.

“Successful candidates are going to need to move far beyond their ethnic or geographic base in order to win,” said Rose Kapolczynski, Boxer’s longtime campaign strategist.

History suggests the potential election of California’s first Latino in the U.S. Senate could mobilize a disproportionately large share of Latino voters.

Latino turnout typically lags that of other voter groups in California, but a rare exception was Villaraigosa’s 2005 election as mayor, according to Political Data Inc., a nonpartisan company that tracks voting patterns. Villaraigosa was the first Latino mayor of modern Los Angeles, an important dynamic in his campaign to unseat Mayor James K. Hahn.

For Republicans, Villaraigosa’s exit will have little effect. The party’s popularity in California has dropped so low that its prospects for capturing Boxer’s seat are minimal.

Republicans pondering a bid include Assemblyman Rocky Chavez of Oceanside and former state party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro, who have formed exploratory committees. Former state Republican Chairman Duf Sundheim is also considering the race.

For Villaraigosa, the Senate contest would have been his first tough campaign since he ousted Hahn. Win or lose, it would have put the former mayor back in the public spotlight after 19 months of keeping a low profile in the private sector.

It also would have put an early end to his employment as a consultant for Banc of California, Herbalife Ltd. and other companies.

When he left office, Villaraigosa said he wanted to run for governor in 2018 — a timetable that would give him more time to build his personal savings after serving as a state assemblyman, city councilman and mayor.

But Boxer’s announcement last month that she would not seek re-election provided an opening for a quicker return to public office, albeit as one of 100 senators in Washington.

Villaraigosa, however, was put off by the rush to decide whether to run and wanted to stay close to his four grown children in California, said former state Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, a close friend of the former mayor.
“I think governor is more along the lines of what he wants to do,” Nunez said.

The competition could be fierce. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor, has already formed a committee to start raising money for the governor’s race.

It appeared to be no accident that Villaraigosa’s statement Tuesday echoed the one that Newsom put out last month when he too declined to run for Senate by saying “I know that my head and my heart, my young family’s future” remain in California.

At the end of 2014, Newsom reported more than $3 million in campaign cash already on hand, as did another potential Democratic gubernatorial contender, state Treasurer John Chiang. Villaraigosa would start the campaign with no money, but candidates can collect much bigger donations for state races than for federal contests.

Other Democrats who might also be tempted to run for governor include Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles.

Photo: Paresh Dave/Neon Tommy via Flickr

When Activists Run For Office

By Nathan L. Gonzales, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Spending time, energy and money on campaigns is one thing. But some political activists go a step further, contemplating whether to become a candidate themselves.

California could see two such cases in the next few years, with environmentalist Tom Steyer and Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas potentially finding themselves in position to run for office.

But a national profile doesn’t automatically translate into local support.

Steyer spent more than $75 million, mostly through his super PAC NextGen Climate Action, trying to influence the outcome of the midterm elections. When Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) announced her decision last month not to seek re-election in 2016, Steyer considered but ultimately declined the opportunity to run for an open seat.

But that doesn’t mean he won’t eventually take the leap.

“My decision about whether to engage from the outside or seek elected office came down to a single question: How best can I fight for a level playing field at this point?” Steyer wrote on The Huffington Post’s website. “Given the imperative of electing a Democratic president — along with my passion for our state — I believe my work right now should not be in our nation’s capitol but here at home in California, and in states around the country where we can make a difference.”

He will get another opportunity in 2018, when Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown will be term-limited, again. But another liberal activist may get a shot at the campaign trail before then.

Moulitsas started the Daily Kos blog in 2002, and grew it to a prominent voice on the left. Daily Kos has endorsed more than 150 different candidates over the past six cycles.

If and when Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee vacates her Northern California seat, Moulitsas, a Berkeley resident, will have an opportunity to run for the 13th District. Lee has been mentioned as a potential ambassador to Cuba.

Moulitsas described Lee as a “great congresswoman” to The New York Times and told the paper, “My goal in life is to promote progressive values and policies. How I accomplish that goal is always changing, and it will keep changing in large part based on the opportunities before me.”

Of course, running as a Democrat in a Democratic district or state is a different calculation than the one Stephanie Schriock faced last cycle.

When Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) announced his decision not to seek re-election, Democrats searched for an alternative. Schriock, who was raised in Montana and managed Senator Jon Tester’s successful campaign in 2006 for the state’s other seat, looked like a natural option. As president of EMILY’s List, Schriock was experienced in recruiting and backing abortion-rights-supporting Democratic women for offices across the country, as well as raising money and discussing issues — but she declined to run.

“Montana raised me, and it will always be my heart,” Schriock said in a statement at the time. “I would love to say yes, but this is not the right time. There is so much work to be done all over the country fighting on behalf of women and standing up against a concerted effort to roll back the clock on our freedoms and opportunities.”

Passing on the race was probably the right political move. Then-Rep. Steve Daines easily defeated his Democratic opponent, 58 percent to 40 percent, in a very good year for Republicans.

Some activists have taken the plunge, and it hasn’t turned out well.

In 2006, former Christian Coalition Executive Director Ralph Reed ran for lieutenant governor of Georgia. He lost in the Republican primary, 56 percent to 44 percent, to Casey Cagle.

Howard Phillips was a national conservative leader of a previous era. After serving in President Richard M. Nixon’s administration, he left the Republican Party and founded the influential Conservative Caucus in 1974. Phillips ran for the Senate as a Democrat in Massachusetts in 1978 and finished a distant fourth in the primary. Phillips also ran for president as a third-party candidate in 1992, 1996 and 2000.

Photo: Fortune Live Media via Flickr

Beneath The Republican Wave, Voters Still Reject Right-Wing Ideology

In the wake of a “wave election” like the 2014 midterm, Americans will soon find out whether they actually want what they have wrought. The polls tell us that too many voters are weary of President Obama, including a significant number who actually voted for him two years ago. Polls likewise suggest that most voters today repose more trust in Republicans on such fundamental issues as economic growth, national security, and budget discipline. But do they want what Republicans in control will do now?

If they are faithful to their beliefs, the Republican leadership in Washington will now seek to advance a set of policies that are simply repugnant to the public – most notably in the Ryan budget that they have signed up to promote (except for the caucus of ultra-right Republicans who consider that wild plan too “moderate”).

House Speaker John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, the new Senate Majority Leader, will have to try to repeal Obamacare — but they will likely be pushed further than that. Proposals to reduce Medicare to vouchers, privatize Social Security, and gut the Federal agencies that protect the health and safety of ordinary citizens and the preservation of clean water and air will soon emerge. They will continue to let the nation’s infrastructure crumble. And they will attempt to shift the burden of taxation from the wealthy to the middle class, working families, and even the poor.

Attention to all these basic questions has been deflected, for the moment, by demagogic campaigns blaring the Ebola virus and Islamist militants at the border, as well as disaffection with the president. But that level of distraction will not last, once the Republicans begin to bring forward the kind of extremist legislation that their Tea Party base (and the billionaire lobby surrounding the Koch brothers) will demand.

When Americans look at real issues – even in this era of dissatisfaction and distraction – they display little interest in Republican-style solutions. The most obvious examples in this election are the referendum ballots on the minimum wage, which passed by two-to-one margins both in deep-red states such as Arkansas and in suddenly purplish places like Illinois, which elected a Republican governor. In Alaska, South Dakota, and Nebraska, where Republican candidates romped at every level,  voters passed state minimum wage increases by wide margins.

While GOP candidates in this year’s election set aside their “free-market” principles in the face of voter sentiment for higher wages – including Tom Cotton, who won a Senate seat in Arkansas – the Republican platform declared plainly in 2012 that the minimum wage “has seriously restricted progress in the private sector.” They aren’t simply against federal minimum wage increases, which they consistently oppose in Congress. They are against the very idea of a legal minimum wage, period.

In the president’s home state, where the election of a Republican governor is regarded as a political bellwether, the simultaneous rejection of right-wing ideology went beyond the minimum wage. Voters in Illinois overwhelmingly approved a “millionaire’s tax” – a special 3 percent state income tax surcharge on every resident earning more than a million dollars annually. Increasing taxes on the wealthy is, of course, anathema to the Republican right.

Even worse, from the Republican perspective, is that revenues from the millionaires tax will be dedicated to public education – another element of American democracy that the GOP constantly seeks to undermine.

Finally, the Illinois electorate approved a law mandating insurance coverage of prescription birth control, directly repudiating the Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court’s right-wing majority. Like the minimum wage and the millionaires tax, this referendum was advisory and not legally binding. Republicans mocked all three as obvious attempts to draw Democratic voters to the polls. And as a political ploy, if that is what those ballot questions represented, they did not succeed.

But taken with the minimum wage referenda in other, more conservative states, they appear to represent prevailing sentiment among the American people.

Today, Republicans have every reason to celebrate a smashing victory that had very little to do with ideas and policies – and everything to do with an unpopular president’s streak of bad luck. What will happen when the right begins to implement its extremist ideology remains to be seen.

California Billionaire May Be Democrats’ Savior

By Christopher Cadelago, McClatchy Washington Bureau

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — He’s about $98 billion short of the competition. But Tom Steyer is the angel the Democrats have been looking for.

The former hedge fund executive from San Francisco is worth a relatively paltry $2 billion, hardly in the $100 billion league of the Koch brothers of Kansas, whose spending to help conservatives has alarmed Democrats.

But since starting to finance campaigns and causes in 2006, Steyer has grown more and more ready to help, particularly on issues related to climate change. This year, he’s pledging to spend or raise $100 million to help Democrats and Democratic-leaning causes.

That’s a valuable commodity in this year’s elections for control of Congress. But a deep-pocketed contributor such as Steyer is particularly important as the party fears being swamped by ads financed by Charles and David Koch, whose Kansas-based company deals in refining, chemicals and other interests and is the nation’s second largest privately held firm.

“All Tom is trying to do is really to balance and level the playing field,” said Chris Lehane, a veteran of presidential campaigns and Steyer’s political strategist.

“We are never going to have as much money as the other side. But all we need is enough for David’s slingshot to fire true and to fire fast and to fire quick to be able to reach the big-oil Goliath.”

Republicans counter that Steyer is an out-of-town political gun with no real connection to the voters he’s trying to influence.

“The problem, of course, is that Tom Steyer doesn’t vote in New Hampshire, Michigan, Colorado or Iowa,” said Brook Hougesen of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Washington-based political operation for Republican Senate campaigns.

She said Steyer “bought off Democrats for $100 million,” a plan that she said she doubted would work.

Steyer, 56, started writing checks to Democratic candidates in 2006. He was a substantial contributor to President Barack Obama’s campaigns.

And this isn’t Steyer’s first run as a multi-million-dollar contributor. Between Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Virginia gubernatorial campaign and Massachusetts’ special election to fill Secretary of State John Kerry’s Senate seat, Steyer has donated more than $9 million.

With a focus on the environment and climate change, and opposition to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, he’s already contributed more than $11 million in the 2014 election cycle.

He’s promised to spend more than $100 million for the pro-environment Democrats, pledging $50 million and promising to raise a second $50 million for his NextGen Climate super PAC.

Beyond seeking to help Democrats this year, Steyer is working to lay the groundwork for them in the 2016 presidential election.

His multi-state blitz includes the Senate races in Colorado, Iowa, Michigan and New Hampshire and governors’ races in Florida, Pennsylvania and Maine. His effort will rely on everything from television ads to polling and opposition research, Lehane said.

“Tom has made clear that NextGen is not a drive-by” PAC, he said.

Steyer clearly sees himself as a counter to the money and interests of the Kochs.

Lehane said Steyer’s spending amounted to “a drop in the big-oil bucket,” singling out the Kochs as GOP donors with special interests of their own. Last month, Steyer challenged the Kochs to a debate on the science of climate change. When they declined, NextGen Climate officials released a Web video calling them out.

Although Steyer’s critics question whether a climate-change agenda will resonate in states with vulnerable incumbents such as Alaska, Louisiana and North Carolina, Lehane said he welcomed a discussion about why some candidates were “taking and adopting an anti-science position.”

In California, Steyer contributed about $5 million against an unsuccessful 2010 ballot measure sponsored by oil companies that would have suspended the state’s greenhouse-gas emissions law. Two years ago, he spent more than $32 million on a voter-approved initiative that changed the way multi-state corporations are taxed in California and directed the proceeds toward energy-saving projects in schools and public buildings.

“At the end of the day, Tom is spending his money in the public interest in advance of an issue that is going to impact people today and our kids tomorrow, whereas the other side is spending money to advance their own economic self-interest,” Lehane said.

The nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics reported that the Koch brothers have contributed more than $22 million since 1990 — and have spent $87 million on lobbying. A joint Washington Post-Center for Responsive Politics investigation said that in the 2012 election alone, the duo amassed more than $400 million from an undisclosed network of donors.

According to The Washington Post, the Koch brothers organized this coalition of 17 conservative groups, which are a hodgepodge of tax-exempt and limited liability companies.

Photo: Fortune Live Media via Flickr