In the haste to coronate California Attorney General Kamala Harris as Boxer’s inevitable successor, Democrats are overlooking her strongest potential opponent in Villaraigosa, who would make history as the first Hispanic Democratic governor or senator in a state where Latinos are now the largest ethnic group. He’s seriously considering entering the race, boasts strong support among Hispanics, and has the highest name identification of all the candidates in the field.
So it’s awfully ironic that much of the early coverage is so dismissive of his prospects. Instead of the hype that traditionally comes with trendsetting candidates, the response to Villaraigosa’s likely candidacy has been met with a yawn. He’s been treated like an afterthought, mentioned alongside longer-shots like billionaire political novice Tom Steyer. Much of the coverage is using the same arguments Republicans employ to downplay Democratic prospects in diversifying states like Texas, Georgia, and Arizona: Latinos don’t show up to vote. And Democratic leaders are conspicuously unenthused about his candidacy, even though the party badly lags behind Republicans in electing Hispanics to top statewide office. (Republicans boast four Latino senators and governors; Democrats only have Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey.)
The discrepancy can be explained by the exuberant excitement over Harris, the hot prospect in Democratic politics since she was narrowly elected California’s attorney general in 2010. The gap between enthusiasm and results began then. In a heavily Democratic state, she barely won her first election, prevailing by only 0.8 percent of the vote, but was already hyped as a future Democratic star. It’s as much a response to her biography as her agenda; she’s multiracial, charismatic, and sports an accomplished resume.