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Billionaire Democrat Tom Steyer says he won't run for office this year: 'That's not where I can make the biggest difference'

Billionaire Democrat Tom Steyer says he won't run for office this year: 'That's not where I can make the biggest difference'
Hedge fund billionaire, Democratic mega-donor and environmentalist Tom Steyer holds a news conference regarding his political future and plans Jan. 8 in Washington. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

San Francisco billionaire and major Democratic donor Tom Steyer said Monday he’s not going to run for Senate or the governor’s office in California this year, ending months of speculation about his future.

“I'm not going to run for office in 2018 — that's not where I can make the biggest difference,” Steyer said at a news conference he called in Washington. “My fight is not just in California, my fight is in removing Donald Trump from office and from power.”

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The former hedge fund manager said he will instead pour $30 million into organizing young voters in 10 states, including California, to aid Democratic efforts to retake control of the House.

“The most important task for me, the task which I feel called to do is organizing … and mobilizing America’s voters. They have got to be the most powerful force in our politics,” Steyer said.

Steyer, who has repeatedly flirted with running for office in California, was weighing a challenge against Sen. Dianne Feinstein as she seeks a fifth full term in the Senate. If he had run, he would have been her second major Democratic challenger — state Senate leader Kevin de León announced a run in October.

In a statement, Feinstein thanked Steyer for his activism and work on environmental issues.

“I look forward to his continued activism in the months ahead as we campaign to take back both chambers of Congress to protect the nation from the dangerous Trump agenda," she said.

Steyer’s investment is an extension of the work his nonprofit, NextGen America, has done organizing on college campuses and online since 2014. NextGen will focus on the seven Republican-held districts in California where voters backed Hillary Clinton for president in 2016 — Steyer specifically called out Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) — as well as at least two dozen other House incumbents. He’ll also pour money into holding vulnerable Democratic Senate seats, and electing Democratic governors.

“In 10 months, God willing, the people of America are going to send a wave across the nation. This tide will wash away the stain of the Trump administration and it will not recede until America lives up to its founding creed,” Steyer said.

Steyer has gained additional attention in recent months with a $20-million nationwide campaign urging Congress to impeach President Trump. He said Monday that he expects to spend at least another $20 million on the effort.

More than 4 million people have signed Steyer’s impeachment petition, which he called a “digital army” that will be mobilized to engage with members of Congress, including Democrats, who have not committed to impeaching Trump.

The ads have drawn Trump’s ire, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) has called the effort a distraction, telling the Los Angeles Times in October that impeachment should only be about “facts and the law,” not policy disagreements.

“Tom Steyer can light as much of his money on fire as he wants, but doesn’t change that Democrats like Nancy Pelosi view him as a distraction. If Democrats’ message for 2018 is a baseless impeachment threat that the majority of voters disagree with, they’re going to lose,” Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Ahrens said.

Steyer brushed off that concern, but said impeachment will not be a litmus test for which candidates he and his groups will support in 2018. Steyer and his wife, Kat, donated at least $91 million to federal races in 2016, putting them among the top donors in the country.

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“We know this makes some of our friends and allies in this city uncomfortable,” Steyer said. “We know that the so-called pundits argue that we have to choose between talking about impeachment and talking about policy. But we believe this is a false choice; the fact is the two are fundamentally intertwined. This Republican Congress is willing to aid and abet a dangerous president because holding him accountable would put their agenda at risk."

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