“Too many Californians are struggling to make ends meet, pay the bills, and send their kids to college. They are looking for progressive leaders in Washington who will fight for them, like Sen. Boxer has done for over 20 years,” he said in a statement. “… The urgency of the needs of the people of this great state have convinced me to seriously consider looking at running for California's open Senate seat."
He joins a large field of Democratic candidates weighing a bid, including billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer, state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and several members of Congress. On the Republican side, Assemblyman Rocky Chavez and former GOP chairmen Duf Sundheim and Tom Del Beccaro are considering bids.
Villaraigosa has previously expressed interest in running for governor. But according to a source close to the former mayor, he sees a path to victory in the Senate run as the only major political figure from the Los Angeles area considering a run. And the race will take place during a presidential campaign, with expected higher voter turnout among Latino, African American and Asian voters -- constituencies he successfully tapped during his mayoral contests.
Among political observers and some of his supporters, Villaraigosa is viewed as a better legislator than executive. Before serving as a two-term mayor of Los Angeles, he was speaker of the California Assembly. Potential obstacles for his candidacy include business decisions he has made since leaving office, as well as personal baggage that led to the dissolution of his marriage.
But being the only Latino candidate to run for the seat would be a boon.
“If he decided to run for senator, he would be very much a tier one candidate on all fronts -- both on the policies, his history, his experiences, his name recognition,” said Maria Elena Durazo, vice president of the UNITE HERE labor union, in an interview on Friday. “The fact of a Latino winning the Senate seat from California would be a very powerful message to send.”
Villaraigosa is working with his longtime pollster Diane Feldman and strategist Michael Trujillo.
Times staff writer David Zahniser contributed to this report.
Follow @LATSeema for political news.