Boxer’s exit puts SCN consultants at center stage

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, speaking to her grandson, announced Thursday on YouTube that she won't seek a fifth term. (Photo: Screen capture, YouTube)

Ready, set, run!

A firestorm of political speculation erupted Thursday across California after U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer announced she wouldn’t seek a fifth term, a move that prompted a close look at California’s new open primary.

Both of these California Democratic Party stars (Kamala Harris and Gavin Newsom) are consulted by SCN Strategies. “So, whoever blinks becomes the early frontrunner in this race.”

All of California’s statewide officeholders and most major contenders for Boxer’s seat are Democrats – which means they’ll be battling each other. Those elected to four-year terms in November will have a “free ride” in 2016, which means they can run for federal office without risking losing their state job.

“There’s an entire generation of ambitious Democratic politicians who’ve been waiting a long time for this,” said Dan Schnur, director of the University of Southern California’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics. “Because this is a competitive Senate race run under the top-two primary rules, it’s entirely possible that we see two Democrats running against each other in the general election next year.”

Under “top two,” the top two candidates who get the most votes in the primary election square off against each other in the general election, regardless of party affiliation.

The pack of potential contenders includes state Attorney General Kamala Harris; Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a former mayor of San Francisco; and former Los Angeles Mayor and Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa.

Factored in any decision to succeed Boxer is the electoral calendar – Gov. Jerry Brown’s will be up for grabs in 2018, and Democrats have long eyed the governorship, the plum of California politics.

“Harris and Newsom would seem to rather be governor, but neither one wants to run against the other,” Schnur said.

On the Republican side, former presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been mentioned, as has Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, who ran unsuccessfully for controller last year against Yee.

Both of these California Democratic Party stars are consulted by San Francisco-based SCN Strategies. “So, whoever blinks becomes the early frontrunner in this race,” he added.

SCN partner Ace Smith handled Jerry Brown’s 2014 reelection campaign. The other principals at SCN are Sean Clegg and Dan Newman.

Other statewide office holders – all Democrats – are seen as possible “dark horse” Senate candidates, including State Controller Betty Yee, Treasurer John Chiang and Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. Contenders from the House include Reps Jackie Speier of San Francisco and Loretta Sanchez of Orange County.

Possible Democratic contenders who don’t currently hold a political office include billionaire Tom Steyer, a wealthy hedge-fund founder from the Bay Area, a bank roller of Democratic causes and an environmentalist. Schnur said he expects to see some speculation about Maria Shriver, the TV host and former First Lady of California.

On the Republican side, former presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been mentioned, as has Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, who ran unsuccessfully for controller last year against Yee.

Boxer, 74, who made her announcement on YouTube as she fielded questions from her grandson, was first elected to the Senate in 1992, during the “Year of the Woman,” when four women were elected across the country to new terms. California was the first state in the nation to be represented by two women – Boxer, often described as the Senate’s most liberal member, and Dianne Feinstein.

Boxer, who earlier served a decade in the House, was reelected to the Senate in 1998, 2004 and 2010. Boxer, a native of New York, also served as an aide to John Burton, now the chair of the California Democratic Party, and on the board of the Marin County supervisors.

Boxer’s retirement had been rumored for months, while the retirement of Feinstein, 81, a conservative Democrat and former mayor of San Francisco, has been the subject of speculation for more than a decade, particularly at reelection time.

In the generation’s time that Boxer has served in the Senate, election rules have dramatically shifted in California. The top-two primary not only makes it more likely two Democrats will face-off in the general election, it also creates a competitive fundraising environment.

Any Republican candidate would likely need enough dough to self-finance their campaign, and, in a crowded Democratic field, they might be able to reach the general election. But none of have hinted at an interest in running at this time.

“I expect there to be plenty of viable candidates of both parties,” State Republican Party head Jim Brulte said in an email. “Over the last two years we have shown that when electoral opportunities present themselves, we take advantage of those opportunities.”

Aaron McClear, the spokesperson for California’s 2014 GOP gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari, said Kashkari is focused on his work in the private sector now but isn’t writing-off a Senate run. Kashkari, a former managing director at the investment firm Pimco, primarily supplemented his campaign for governor with personal wealth.

Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of San Diego, the wealthiest member serving in Congress (who infamously subsidized California’s historic gubernatorial recall election in 2003, only to drop out of the GOP primary after Arnold Schwarzenegger jumped in), took his name out of the pool of conservative candidates shortly after Boxer’s announcement.

Here’s a rundown of potential candidates for a Senate bid in 2016:
State Attorney General Kamala Harris
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom
Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
Rep. Jackie Speier, San Francisco
Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones
Rep. Loretta Sanchez, Orange County
Secretary of State Alex Padilla
State Treasurer John Chiang
Maria Shriver, TV host, former California first lady
Ellen Tauscher, former House member, State Department official.
Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno

Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate.
Neil Kashkari, candidate for governor against Brown in 2014
Condoleeza Rice, former White House national security adviser
Carla Fiorina, former HP chief who lost to Boxer in 2010 Senate race.
Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin.

Ed’s Note: Updates earlier story with comment, detail. Recasts throughout.



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