Villaraigosa lags Harris in social media

Villaraigosa lags Harris in social media
Antonio Villaraigosa on a tour of Los Angeles during his last week as mayor. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Antonio Villaraigosa hit a social media milestone last month: He posted something on Facebook for the first time in 19 months, telling followers he might run for U.S. Senate.

He skipped Twitter.

As the former Los Angeles mayor ponders whether to join the Senate race, his lack of engagement in social media looms as a potentially major challenge.

For years, Villaraigosa has treated Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets as little more than an afterthought. His last tweet, in June 2013, congratulated Eric Garcetti for taking over as mayor the following day.

Villaraigosa, who now lives in a Santa Monica high-rise overlooking the ocean, keeps a low profile as a private citizen after spending the better part of two decades in public life.

He has made no secret of his aspiration for statewide elective office, but by failing to tend to his social media networks, he has enabled potential rivals to gain an edge.

Villaraigosa apparently has all but ignored the enormous changes in the way candidates communicate with voters since his last tough race 10 years ago, when he ousted Mayor James K. Hahn.

On Facebook, state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, the only major candidate in the June 2016 Senate contest so far, has built a network of more than 73,000 followers. Villaraigosa has 1,588.

Harris has 34,700 Twitter followers, Villaraigosa 8,465.

"He's going to have to build this up," said Doug Herman, a California Democratic strategist.

It's become crucial for candidates to have a large network of social media supporters who spread everything from YouTube videos to fundraising appeals – and are seen by friends as trusted sources. The last time Villaraigosa ran a competitive race, social media staff were a minor part of the campaign operation. That's no longer the case.

"They're now baked into the core strategy of every political team," Herman said.

When his term as mayor ended, Villaraigosa had more than 53,000 Twitter followers, but on a government account he had to relinquish.

If Villaraigosa declines to seek Barbara Boxer's Senate seat next year, he could instead run for governor in 2018. Then, he would probably face Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor with a Facebook network of more than 125,000 people and more than 1.2 million followers on Twitter.

Villaraigosa, 62, could not be reached for comment.

Twitter: @finneganLAT