Calif. AG shakes up Senate race
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California Attorney General Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisSanders: Trump setting 'terrible example' for our children Sanders, Harris set to criss-cross Iowa Kamala Harris rallies voters in South Carolina MORE’s (D) entrance into the race for retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer’s (D-Calif.) seat might scare off her biggest foes.

Within minutes of her Tuesday morning announcement, national Democrats were buzzing about her campaign — and other potential opponents were scrambling to respond.

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“Kamala Harris is the first woman, first African American and first South Asian to serve as California’s Attorney General. We’re excited to watch her candidacy — it’s critical Senator Boxer’s seat stays in the hands of a champion for women and families,” EMILY’s List said in a statement. 

The rising political star has long been mentioned in some corners as a potential future presidential candidate. And while no one was rushing to make an endorsement, a number of Washington groups’ comments indicate what a formidable candidate she’ll be, which could ward off other Democrats. 

“With strong candidates like Kamala Harris Democrats remain confident that we’ll hold this seat and continue Barbara Boxer’s long history of fighting for California. The DSCC will continue to monitor the California Senate race closely,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Justin Barasky said in a statement.

Harris’s profile as a younger, relatively centrist, multiethnic female candidate thrills many Democrats. A number of leading figures in the party have pushed for more diversity from Democratic statewide officials, especially as Republicans have increased their number of prominent female and minority figures statewide.

The attorney general has deep ties throughout the party. She ran President Obama’s California campaign in 2008 and has kept up her connections with the president — he was one of the people she informed of her decision to run before announcing. She also has some connections in likely 2016 candidate Hillary Clinton’s orbit.

Harris has worked hard to expand her appeal past her Northern California political and fundraising base. Her only 2014 TV ads were run in Los Angeles, and Harris advisers point out that she spends much of her time in Southern California, where her husband lives and runs a law firm.

Harris described herself as a populist fighter in her campaign announcement, a characterization she’s likely to use as she looks to appeal to both California’s large progressive base and the more blue-collar independent vote throughout the state.

“I want to be a voice for Californians on these issues and others that impact our state in the U.S. Senate,” she wrote. “I will be a fighter for the next generation on the critical issues facing our country. I will be a fighter for middle class families who are feeling the pinch of stagnant wages and diminishing opportunity. I will be a fighter for our children who deserve a world-class education, and for students burdened by predatory lenders and skyrocketing tuition. And I will fight relentlessly to protect our coast, our immigrant communities and our seniors.”

The attorney general has a relatively centrist record for a Northern California Democrat, and her advisers say that she’s likely to play up her non-ideological accomplishments, like battling the banks and revising foreclosure law after the 2008 mortgage crisis and her fight against gangs.

California Democrats praised Harris but also indicated she could still face a challenge.

“We have such a great, deep bench, and she’s part of that great, deep bench,” Boxer told The Hill.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D) is still deciding whether to run for Senate or wait for a gubernatorial bid in 2018. Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer (D) is also publicly considering a campaign, and almost a dozen other potential candidates have floated their names.

Sources close to Villaraigosa say he’s likely to make up his mind in the next few days. It’s unclear what the former mayor is planning, though he’s previously indicated he had a lot more interest in a gubernatorial bid.

Harris is viewed by Villaraigosa allies and most California Democrats as a more formidable foe than California Lieutenant Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who announced Monday he wouldn’t run for Senate, presumably to run for governor in 2018 instead. 

Villaraigosa would also have to raise money a lot faster for a Senate bid than if he waits two more years, though he theoretically could run for governor as well if he loses a Senate bid next year.

“Certainly, Attorney General Harris is a very formidable opponent. But who decides to run or not is not a major factor in his decision,” said one close Villaraigosa ally after saying Harris was a tougher opponent than Newsom.  “Any effective candidate really has to have the fire in the belly; they’re going to have to want this more than anyone else, and that’s a big commitment, and that’s part of what the mayor is wrestling with right now.”

Steyer said in a Tuesday op-ed that he was weighing a decision and would decide soon. But he also suggested he might be open to backing another candidate.

“California Democrats are blessed to have a deep bench of talent, and I will decide soon based on what I think is the best way to continue the hard work we have already started together to prevent climate disaster and preserve American prosperity.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) had also been giving the race a hard look, but she told The Hill on Tuesday it was “unlikely” she would jump in the Senate race. 

“If Kamala Harris gets in, the two of us would have the same universe of support,” Speier said. “She’s run statewide twice in the time that I’ve been here. I’ve only run statewide once” as a candidate for lieutenant governor in 2006.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) might look to seize the Southern California and Hispanic mantle in the race — she announced via Facebook Tuesday afternoon that she is “seriously considering running” and touting her work on immigration reform. 

But Sanchez is not as well known as Villaraigosa statewide and doesn’t have as large a donor network. Her public interest also might be a sign that Villaraigosa won’t run — it’s unlikely there’s room in the race for both of them.

A dozen other Democrats have floated their names for the race, though it’s unclear whether any will mount a bid. 

Scott Wong contributed.