State Sen. Ted Lieu announced Friday he would run, joining former City Controller Wendy Greuel among Democrats seeking to represent the district that stretches from Malibu to the Palos Verdes Peninsula and straddles the Westside and the South Bay. Activist and attorney Sandra Fluke is expected to make a decision in coming days, and Secretary of State Debra Bowen is still considering a bid.
"It's going to be a cast of thousands. This seat has not been open in 40 years … and there are no term limits in Congress," said Garry South, a veteran Democratic strategist. "Everyone's going to go after the brass ring."
The district leans left, and any Democratic candidate deciding whether to get into the race will need to make a decision next week to be eligible for a nomination by the state party, a significant imprimatur in a multi-candidate contest.
Prior to Waxman's announcements, two independent candidates were already in the hunt: Brent Roske, a television producer and director, and Marianne Williamson, the author of several self-help books.
Williamson on Friday cautioned voters not to be lulled into thinking the incumbent's retirement had produced an open race.
"America's traditional two-party rhetoric is not wide open," said Williamson, a former Democrat who said she would caucus with that party if elected. "It is fundamentally narrow and constricted" because moneyed interests have too much influence over the two dominant parties.
Another big question yet unanswered is whether Manhattan Beach businessman Bill Bloomfield, an independent and former Republican, will run. Bloomfield spent more than $7 million of his own money in an unsuccessful 2012 race against Waxman, winning 46% of the vote.
Even before Waxman's surprise announcement, Bloomfield was exploring running again. On Friday, he said he was "definitely leaning toward running."
"It's not a decision to be made lightly," he said.
Strategists on both sides of the aisle said that Waxman's retirement, coupled with the large field of Democratic candidates competing in the so-called jungle primary, in which the top two vote-getters move to the general election regardless of party designation, would buoy Bloomfield's chances. Another option: a bid by a well-financed, moderate Republican, though one had not emerged by Friday evening.
All of the candidates — announced or potential — have strengths and baggage. Greuel has sky-high name recognition from her 2013 mayoral bid, during which she spent millions in the Los Angeles media market. But she will face charges of carpetbagging because she does not currently live in the district — she said she would move — and South Bay voters may object to her failure during the mayor's race to take a stance on proposed LAX runway expansion.
Lieu's Torrance-based district overlaps with about 80% of the congressional district, and he rolled out an impressive list of endorsements Friday. But he is not well known in the northern half of the district, home to two-thirds of its voters.
An Air Force veteran, Lieu was on the Torrance City Council before being elected to the Assembly and then the state Senate. He said he shares many of the same concerns as Waxman, including environmental protections.
"I think I've been a leader on many of the issues voters in this district care about," Lieu said.
Lieu and Bowen have deep ties to the South Bay. Fluke, who famously came under assault from radio host Rush Limbaugh after she advocated contraception coverage during the health insurance debate, is well known among Democratic activists nationwide, but has never held elected office. She and Greuel would probably attract some of the same supporters.
Although the district tilts Democratic, there are pockets of Republicans and a large number of decline-to-state voters. And the Democrats are not homogenous, ranging from coastal liberals to a significant gay and lesbian community, from affluent Asian Americans in Rancho Palos Verdes to conservative Democrats in Torrance, Democratic redistricting expert Paul Mitchell said.
"The demographics in this district really have several different aspects of Los Angeles in it," he said.