10 Races to Watch in 2016: California Senate

Boxer, left, is a Democrat from California. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Boxer, left, is a Democrat from California. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted December 31, 2014 at 5:00am

With her campaign account nearly dry, and staring down at least two years in the minority, Democratic operatives in California say there is a strong possibility Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, 74, will retire in 2016.  

Boxer has indicated she will decide whether to seek another term  in early 2015. But if she steps aside, pols will encounter the Golden State’s first open Senate seat in more than two decades — a scenario that would have reverberations throughout California’s political ranks.  

Democrats say any number of elected officials who have waited decades to run could pile into the race. Democrats mention well-known names such as Attorney General Kamala Harris and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom as possible candidates. But it’s unlikely both Democrats will run.  

Other possible Democratic candidates include Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, as well as Reps. Raul Ruíz, John Garamendi and Jackie Speier. If any members of Congress jump in the race, it would create open-seat opportunities, some of which might be in competitive districts.  

Also, this is California, home of Hollywood heavyweights and tech giants, so there’s always the possibility of a famous face entering the fray.  

Such a large bench of Democratic candidates could complicate the future of the seat.  

This could be California’s first open Senate race since voters approved a top-two primary system. Under this law, the two highest vote recipients, regardless of party, advance to the general election. If too many Democrats crowd the field, they could splinter the vote and allow two Republicans to advance to the general election, effectively losing the seat for the party.  

But the Republican bench is less certain.  

California Republicans saw a net loss of one House seat in 2014 — an otherwise banner year for the GOP — which would likely deter GOP candidates from running statewide.  

GOP operatives in California say the ideal candidate would be one who could self-finance a bid, as it costs millions per week to run statewide.