Barbara Boxer may have no plans to endorse any of the potential candidates clamoring to replace her in the Senate, but that isn’t stopping them from lining up at her door.
Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa hopped into an eco-friendly Chevy Volt
on Saturday and trekked out to visit the California senator and environmental crusader in her hometown of Rancho Mirage, according to Democratic sources. On Sunday, Attorney General Kamala Harris, the sole announced candidate, paid a visit to the senator out that way.
At a gathering with reporters on Wednesday, Boxer said that she has also chatted with billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, who is weighing his own run.
“I have met with several people already,” Boxer said. Asked about Villaraigosa, she said: “I’ve talked to him.” Then she went on to say: “I’ve talked to Kamala, I’ve talked to Steyer. My phone is open.”
Boxer said none of them has asked for an endorsement, since they know she won’t make one. But she is not shy about offering advice. And she said she is not ruling out the possibility that she may endorse as the 2016 election draws nearer.
One group of potential candidates Boxer has not spoken with, she said, are the members of California’s House delegation contemplating a run. “I haven’t been called by any House members,” said Boxer, herself a member of the House of Representatives when she sought the Senate. Boxer said that despite their relative profile deficit, that crop of lawmakers should not be dissuaded by pundits and consultants who give them impossible odds.
“When I ran, I had zero chance,” she said. “I was an asterisk in the polls….I didn’t even measure. I decided to run knowing that I probably couldn’t win because I had something to say that I thought I could say better than anybody else.”
That said, Boxer cautioned that the playing field has changed drastically since she first ran for Senate in 1992. California’s open primary makes it much tougher for a liberal member of the House – as Boxer was then – to break out of the pack of candidates for a Senate seat, she said.
“I could run to Democrats,” she said. “Independents did not get to vote in my primary. Republicans did not get to run in my primary. So now you have to run, in essence, two general elections…I don’t like this system. I think this was a horrible system that was put in place by the voters. I respect it, but it isn’t good.”
Boxer is obviously unimpressed by the argument of open primary backers that it creates a more responsive political system. “Obviously it doesn’t favor people who don’t have big name ID,” she said. “It doesn’t favor people who don’t have a lot of money.”
One of those people threw in the towel Wednesday. Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Bay Area Democrat who had been mulling a run, announced he would be supporting the attorney general’s bid instead.
So Boxer’s message to lower-profile candidates interested in mounting a run: “If it is in your heart, you run. It can happen. But there are the problems you face that I didn’t face.”
Times staff writer Michael Finnegan contributed to this report from Los Angeles.