Attributing her successÂ to a â€śblood sportâ€ť view of politics, California Attorney General Kamala Harris hasÂ established herself as theÂ leading contender to replace Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who is retiring in Jan. 2017.
â€śI always start my campaigns early, and I run hard,â€ť Harris told the New York Times. â€śMaybe it comes from the rough-and-tumble world of San Francisco politics, where itâ€™s not even a contact sport â€” itâ€™s a blood sport. This is how I am as a candidate. This is how I run campaigns.â€ť
But that attitude has helped set up what could be a difficultÂ dynamic for Harris inÂ her quest for the Senate.
She has cleared away key potential competitors fromÂ 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, includingÂ 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 ChĂˇvezÂ ofÂ 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 FranciscoÂ 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
Harrisâ€™ 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.
â€śI know that my heart and my family are here in California, not Washington, D.C.,â€ť he said in a statement posted to Facebook. â€śI 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.â€ť Villaraigosaâ€™s decision was seen as signaling greater interest in pursuing a bid for governor.
Even thoughÂ Villaraigosa himself was seen as one of Harrisâ€™ most formidable would-beÂ rivals, his weaknesses as a candidate were far greater than other Southern California Latinos currently weighing serious Senate bids.Â Villaraigosa struggled with personal scandal and an embarrassingly rough landing after leaving office, when he had to scroungeÂ for lucrative work through personal connections and the strength of his name recognition.
Ironically, that openedÂ the field for others to challenge Harris. The kind of travails Villaraigosa facedÂ havenâ€™t been a problem for Harrisâ€™ most likely Latino challengers. Schiff, Becerra and Sanchez have â€śbeen 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,â€ť the Los Angeles Times reported.
â€śBut 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.â€ť
Meanwhile, noted the Times, Harris still hasnâ€™t made an impression on more than half of Californiaâ€™s registered voters, according to a poll conducted with USC Dornsife.
Pressure on the right
Despite expressing strong interest, neither Becerra nor SanchezÂ officially has declared their candidacy. For now, that gives an advantage to ChĂˇvez, the only other candidate to declare after Harris.
And within the California GOP, as the Sacramento Bee observed, his â€śrĂ©sumĂ© 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.â€ť
ChĂˇvezâ€™s political positioning also has raised hurdlesÂ for other Republicans considering a run.Â â€śHe supports gay marriage and has chided members of his own party for blocking immigration reform,â€ť noted the Bee. â€śHe opposes abortion rights, however, a position he attributes to his Catholic upbringing.â€ť
Running to the left or the right ofÂ ChĂˇvez could pose problems for GOP rivals. That could inspireÂ the state partyÂ 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.
â€śA lot of things can happen on the way to a coronation,â€ť ChĂˇvez recently told the New York Times.