Bill Press: New Gold Rush

Bill Press: New Gold Rush
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Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerTime is now to address infrastructure needs Tom Steyer testing waters for Calif. gubernatorial bid Another day, another dollar for retirement advice rip-offs MORE’s announcement that she will not seek reelection to the Senate has set off a frenzy in California not seen since the Gold Rush. Anybody could win. All you need is a pick, an ax and the ability to raise or cough up a minimum $40 million.

Wanna play? Lots of people do. 

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In fact, with Boxer and Dianne Feinstein occupying both Senate seats since the early ’90s, and Jerry Brown’s longtime lock on the governor’s office, younger California Democrats have been bottled up in a no man’s land for years, taking turns rotating among lesser state offices, waiting for their chance at the big time. Boxer pulled the plug. Now all that pent-up energy and ambition is bursting out. It’s fun to watch.

Three statewide officials might have the edge, but only because they’ve already run statewide a couple of times. State Attorney General Kamala Harris and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom have reached a pact not to run against each other, and Newsom’s already taken himself out of the race. That leaves Harris. But don’t count out state Treasurer John Chiang. He’s young, charismatic and still gets high marks for refusing to carry out former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s order to cut the minimum wage for state employees during a budget showdown. 

Simply because California’s so big — with a population of 38 million people — it’s tough for a member of Congress to run and win statewide. But Boxer did it. And several of those in today’s delegation have gained enough visibility to have a serious shot, including Northern California’s Jackie Speier and Southern California’s Loretta Sanchez, Xavier Becerra and Adam Schiff. California demographics would seem to give an edge to a female or Hispanic candidate.

Then there are at least two outliers: former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who’s already announced his likely candidacy, and billionaire Tom Steyer, “Mr. Climate Change,” who spent $74 million supporting other environmental candidates and may now think it’s time to elect the greenest candidate of all, him. If he wants it, he could buy it.

Or at least he could buy one of two spots in the general election. Remember: Under California’s whacky new primary rules, the final choice for Senate could end up between the top two Democrats, especially because California Republicans have no likely successful statewide candidate. Not one. They may have to import Scott Brown. Rumor is, he’s available.

Whoever steps in, they'll have big shoes to fill. I’ve known Boxer since she was a Marin County supervisor and worked closely with her when I was California Democratic Party chairman. She was a dynamo in the House, exposing the $600 Pentagon toilet seat and forcing the Senate Judiciary Committee to take Anita Hill seriously. She’s the leading environmentalist, and one of the top progressives, in the Senate, yet she forged a bipartisan transportation bill with climate-denier James Inhofe. She’s tough, resolute and effective. She’s served California extraordinarily well.

But Boxer will soon be gone. Let the games begin. 

Press is host of “The Bill Press Show” on Free Speech TV and author of The Obama Hate Machine.