Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
01/12/2015 11:29 PM

Barbara Boxer’s decision to retire from the U.S. Senate dissipates some of the fog that has been obscuring California’s political landscape.

We are learning not only which ambitious politicians will seek her seat in 2016, but also who may be waiting for another Senate seat, or the governorship, to open up.

We may even learn whom Gov. Jerry Brown wants to succeed him four years hence.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement Monday that he won’t run for the Senate next year was clearly a de facto declaration for governor in 2018.

“It’s always better to be candid than coy,” Newsom said in a Facebook post. “While I am humbled by the widespread encouragement of so many and hold in the highest esteem those who serve us in federal office, I know that my head and my heart, my young family’s future, and our unfinished work all remain firmly in the State of California – not Washington, D.C.”

With billionaire Tom Steyer and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa chomping at the bit, Newsom’s statement opened the door for Attorney General Kamala Harris to declare her intentions, and it appeared late Monday that it would be a go.

It’s a bit of an overstatement to say that the Senate seat is Harris’ if she wants it, but not much. Her expected entry makes her the clear frontrunner and puts the pressure on Steyer and Villaraigosa to fish or cut bait.

Clearly she would prefer to be the sole Democratic candidate. Were there to be a slew of Democrats, it would give a single Republican candidate, whoever it might be, a chance, under the top-two primary system, of facing the Democratic frontrunner in a runoff.

It’s even very remotely possible that if enough Democrats run and divide the vote, two Republicans could wind up facing each other. That’s what happened in a strongly Democratic congressional district in 2012.

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