Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

What Boxer’s Retirement Would Mean

In Senate on December 9, 2014 at 12:09 pm

News reports are circulating that Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) will soon announce she will not seek re-election in 2016. Boxer will turn 76 years old just days after the 2016 election. She has halted fundraising, is not hiring a campaign staff, and, now that she’s in the minority without a committee chairmanship, it appears that these aforementioned signs clearly suggest she will complete her legislative career at the end of the current term.

This means a great deal of California political action is likely to soon come our way. The Golden State has not seen an open Senate seat since Boxer first won in 1992. So, especially among Democrats who dominate California politics, we can predict a very lively campaign beginning immediately upon Boxer making her plans official.

The state’s top-two nominating system means a free-for-all is on tap for the June 2016 qualifying election, with some chance that two Democrats could advance to the general election.

On the other hand, splitting the Democratic vote among a large number of candidates in June could lead not only to a Republican advancing to November, but actually finishing first. In the last two primary elections, the GOP has run relatively well, mostly due to poor turnout among Democratic voters. But, an open presidential election year coupled with an incumbent-less US Senate race would likely mean high turnout from both parties. Therefore, it is probable that a Democrat and Republican would qualify for the November campaign.

Short-term and long-term political calculations will abound, because 2018 could usher in a changing of the guard in Golden State politics. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) will be ineligible to seek a third consecutive term, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) is a strong retirement possibility in that year because she will be 85 years old at the time of the next mid-term election. Therefore, certain politicos may decide to avoid a more crowded 2016 field in lieu of a 2018 run when two major offices will be on the ballot with no incumbent in either field of candidates.

In terms of key Democratic statewide officials, look no further than Gavin Newsom, the state’s lieutenant governor and, like Feinstein, a former mayor of San Francisco. Attorney General Kamala Harris, also from the Bay Area, is a political ally of Newsom’s and may not run against him. Harris may be one who waits for 2018 when she could run for governor or Feinstein’s seat.

Looking at population-heavy Los Angeles, current Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) is reportedly already looking at running for the Senate. So may former LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D). Beyond them, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA-14) is a potential contender as is former Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA-36), also a previous statewide candidate (1998, governor; finished third in Democratic primary with 20.5 percent).

Republicans have little in the way of a bench, holding no statewide offices. And, with the millions of dollars required to run statewide in California, it becomes very difficult to mount a successful statewide campaign from a district position. Additionally, in 2014, when turnout was down some three million-plus voters from the 2010 mid-term election and in the height of a Republican wave, the GOP could do no better than hold only two Democratic statewide candidates below 54 percent.

Members of the congressional delegation who have run statewide before include Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA-4), who also pulled the almost unheard of feat of winning election to a northern California congressional seat while a sitting Los Angeles/ Ventura County state senator. Therefore, he is one House member with a base in two major markets. Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA-3) has held two statewide positions before coming to Congress, that of lieutenant governor, and state insurance commissioner.

Other names likely to be mentioned as potential candidates are Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA-49), who has previously run for the Senate (1998, losing Republican primary to then-state Treasurer Matt Fong, 45-40%) and state Treasurer-Elect John Chiang (D), who is just completing his second term as state controller. Expect many more individuals to be mentioned as possible candidates in the coming days.

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