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Kamala Harris a Self-Professed ‘Blood-Sport’ Candidate

Attributing her success to a “blood sport” view of politics, California Attorney General Kamala Harris has established herself as the leading contender to replace Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who is retiring in Jan. 2017.

“I always start my campaigns early, and I run hard,” Harris told the New York Times. “Maybe it comes from the rough-and-tumble world of San Francisco politics, where it’s not even a contact sport — it’s a blood sport. This is how I am as a candidate. This is how I run campaigns.”

But that attitude has helped set up what could be a difficult dynamic for Harris in her quest for the Senate.

She has cleared away key potential competitors from Northern California, such as Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has opted to run for governor in 2018. But Harris has not dispatched credible Democratic contenders in the Southland, including Rep. Adam Schiff of Burbank, Rep. Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles and Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Garden Grove. Then there are potential Republican contenders, such as Assemblyman Rocky Chávez of Oceanside.

For years, Southern Californian Democrats have chafed at what many have seen as an excessive degree of dominance within the state party by San Francisco and Sacramento-area members, including Boxer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, both from Marin County; and Gov. Jerry Brown, the former mayor of Oakland.

A wide-open field

Harris’ aggressive approach to political advancement has helped knock one nationally recognized L.A. Latino out of the Senate scramble. Former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa bailed out of contention late in February.

“I know that my heart and my family are here in California, not Washington, D.C.,” he said in a statement posted to Facebook. “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.” Villaraigosa’s decision was seen as signaling greater interest in pursuing a bid for governor.

Even though Villaraigosa himself was seen as one of Harris’ most formidable would-be rivals, his weaknesses as a candidate were far greater than other Southern California Latinos currently weighing serious Senate bids. Villaraigosa struggled with personal scandal and an embarrassingly rough landing after leaving office, when he had to scrounge for lucrative work through personal connections and the strength of his name recognition.

Ironically, that opened the field for others to challenge Harris. The kind of travails Villaraigosa faced haven’t been a problem for Harris’ most likely Latino challengers. Schiff, Becerra and Sanchez have “been waiting for colleagues to retire so they can move up, and they still face the constant threat that even after biding their time, rivals could outmaneuver them,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

“But with scant hope that Democrats could seize control of the House next year, they are also stuck in the relatively powerless minority. Democrats stand a better chance of retaking the Senate, so the potential leap may be that much more tempting.”

Meanwhile, noted the Times, Harris still hasn’t made an impression on more than half of California’s registered voters, according to a poll conducted with USC Dornsife.

Pressure on the right

Despite expressing strong interest, neither Becerra nor Sanchez officially has declared their candidacy. For now, that gives an advantage to Chávez, the only other candidate to declare after Harris.

And within the California GOP, as the Sacramento Bee observed, his “résumé and standing as a state legislator make him the most prominent Republican among those weighing bids. A former city councilman in Oceanside, he spent nearly three decades in the Marines and later served as acting secretary to the state Department of Veterans Affairs.”

Chávez’s political positioning also has raised hurdles for other Republicans considering a run. “He supports gay marriage and has chided members of his own party for blocking immigration reform,” noted the Bee. “He opposes abortion rights, however, a position he attributes to his Catholic upbringing.”

Running to the left or the right of Chávez could pose problems for GOP rivals. That could inspire the state party to rally around him relatively early. Although not an electoral cure-all, California Republicans could score a perceived coup by fielding a Latino candidate against Harris.

“A lot of things can happen on the way to a coronation,” Chávez recently told the New York Times.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Villaraigosa Won’t Challenge Harris for Senate Seat

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced he won’t challenge state Attorney General Kamala Harris for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Senator Barbara Boxer in 2016. That boosts the prospects of fellow Democrat Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Garden Grove.

Villaraigosa announced his decision Tuesday in a post on Facebook that foreshadowed a run for governor in 2018.

“I am humbled by the encouragement I’ve received from so many to serve in the United States Senate,” the former Democratic Speaker of the California Assembly wrote. “But as I think about how best to serve the people of this great state, I know that my heart and my family are here in California, not Washington, D.C.”

If Villaraigosa’s statement that his heart remains “here in California” wasn’t a clear enough indication of a future run for governor, he added he’ll continue his “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,” he concluded.

Kamala Harris

Villaraigosa’s decision to pass on an application for membership in “the world’s most exclusive club” follows similar announcements by Treasurer John Chiang, billionaire climate-change activist Tom Steyer and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

It didn’t take long for Harris, the only major announced Democratic candidate, to issue a statement praising the former Los Angeles mayor.

Kamala-Harris-hands“The city of Los Angeles, and our state and nation, have benefitted [sic] greatly from his leadership,” Harris said in a prepared statement tweeted by her campaign. “I know he has much more to offer. I wish him and his family all the best.”

Although Harris welcomed Villaraigosa’s exit from the race, the biggest beneficiary could be Loretta Sanchez. A moderate Orange County Democrat, Sanchez would have appealed to similar voters — Latinos and Southern Californians — as Villaraigosa.

Sanchez may prove formidable challenger to Harris

She hasn’t received the same media hype as Villaraigosa, but in some respects Sanchez may prove to be a more formidable challenger to Harris. The 10-term Democrat has said she’ll make a decision later this year. Sanchez has a head start on fundraising with nearly $400,000 in federal cash on hand, according to the most recent campaign finance reports.

Loretta SanchezHer statewide name identification, albeit lower than Villaraigosa’s, comes without the personal baggage. Early in his tenure as mayor, Villaraigosa disclosed an affair with a Telemundo newswoman. That was followed by photos showing the mayor partying with Hollywood bad boy Charlie Sheen at a hotel opening in Mexico.

But as pointed out by CalWatchdog.com, the biggest weight on a Villaraigosa campaign could be his support for Esteban Nunez, the son of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez. Esteban pled guilty to manslaughter for the fatal stabbing of a 22-year-old college student. Villaraigosa, on official mayoral letterhead, wrote a letter of support for “a young man of good and upright character.”

The case was riddled with political favoritism, as detailed in a lengthy profile by the Los Angeles Times, and ended with Nunez friend Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s commutation of Esteban’s sentence.

Latino Caucus: Senate contest bigger than any one candidate

Villaraigosa’s decision to pass on the race also does nothing to cool the burning frustrations of Latino political leaders, who are being pressured by some Democratic leaders to clear the field for Harris.

Earlier this year, former Speaker of the Assembly Willie Brown, who at one time dated Harris, said Villaraigosa should forgo a campaign out of respect for his friendship with the attorney general.

“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,” Brown told the Sacramento Bee.

That comment inspired grumblings from members of the California Latino Caucus, who say the race is bigger than any one Latino candidate. Earlier this month, the group released a poll showing a Latino candidate could contend with Harris. The survey of 600 likely Latino voters, according to CalBuzz, showed Villaraigosa leading Harris, with Sanchez not far behind in third place.

“The U.S. Senate race has importance beyond the contestants themselves,” Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose, said in a press release. “This is not about one candidate or another. An exciting race can generate enthusiasm among voters that have not been energized in years.”

Other Democratic candidates that are considering the race include Rep. Adam Schiff of Burbank, Rep. Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles and former Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera.

On the Republican side, Assemblyman Rocky Chavez of Carlsbad and former California Republican Party chairman Tom Del Beccaro are seriously exploring bids.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

And The Political Oscar Goes To …

Oscar Sunday has arrived, and while the celebrities are preening for their 30-seconds on screen, we thought at F&H we should put out Oscars for California political performances so far this year.

Best Actor: Neel Kashkari, on the streets of Fresno (albeit a performance that the locals didn’t vote for)

Best Subtle Performance: Jerry Brown at his budget press conference assuring reporters Prop 30 taxes are temporary … or are they? See Joel’s column here and Dan Walters here both picking up the same thing, maybe there is some flexibility in the word “temporary.”

Best Imitation of Hamlet: Antonio Villaraigosa – Will he or won’t he run for the U.S. Senate?

Best Special Effects: Kevin de Leon’s swearing in as Pro Tem

Best Original Song: Kim Alexander and California Voter Foundation 2014 Proposition Song

Best Director: Ace Smith, making all the political actors move as he wishes

Best Editing: Nathan Fletcher, turning his war hero Republican movie into an independent film, then a mainstream Democratic one

Best Adapted Screenplay: Prop. 2, with spare parts from previous rainy day fund attempts

Best Supporting Actor: Sutter Brown

Best Costume (to Prove this is Not 1980 California): Proposed ballot measures to reverse English Only, require condoms in porn films, and legalize marijuana

Surprise Newcomer of the Year: Assemblywoman Patty Lopez

Most Surprising Performance: Leland Yee, really was there any doubt?

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Joel Fox is Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee. Joe Mathews is Connecting California Columnist and Editor at ZĂłcalo Public Square, and Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University.