Antonio Villaraigosa's decision to bypass the contest for Barbara Boxer's seat in the U.S. Senate leaves an opening for an array of lesser known Democrats to run against state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, the only major candidate in the race so far.
Harris, a former San Francisco district attorney, has won two statewide elections, and her job as the state's top prosecutor has made her a familiar presence on TV news. For most potential opponents, it would be a major challenge to raise enough money -- perhaps $20 million -- to compete effectively against Harris.
Democrats still considering the Senate contest include several House members: Reps. Loretta Sanchez of Garden Grove, Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles and Adam Schiff of Burbank.
"Any member of Congress is not particularly well known statewide, so that's definitely a challenge," said Parke Skelton, a Democratic strategist who has worked for a number of potential Senate candidates.
House members cannot seek reelection and run for another office at the same time, so waging a long-shot bid for Boxer's Senate seat would mean giving up their jobs at the end of the current term. Boxer, a Democrat, announced last month that she would not seek reelection next year.
Sanchez and Becerra would count on a Latino base in Southern California to buttress their candidacies, as would former Army Secretary Louis Caldera, a onetime Los Angeles state assemblyman who is also exploring a candidacy.
Of the House members known to be considering the Senate race, Schiff has the most money in the bank -- more than $2.1 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign money.
For Republicans, Villaraigosa's announcement will have little effect. The party's popularity in California has dropped so low that its prospects for capturing Boxer's seat are poor.
Republicans who have said they are pondering a bid include Assemblyman Rocky Chavez of Oceanside and two former state party chairmen: Duf Sundheim and Tom Del Beccaro.