Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer and former Republican Congressman Doug Ose are polar opposites politically, but have jointly altered dynamics of this year’s California elections.
Late last week, Ose, who represented a suburban Sacramento district for several terms, declared that he will run for governor.
“Simply put, I’m running to rebuild the California dream.” Ose told the Sacramento Bee, adding, “It’s fascinating that those in office don’t see all of the problems. You can’t help but see them. I mean, come on. Just drive through any urban area. Unless you are one of these bazillionaires, California is broken.”
On Monday, Steyer told a Washington news conference that instead of running for governor or U.S. senator this year, he’s going to spend $30 million on helping his fellow Democrats recapture control of Congress.
“People have been asking me for 12 months and five days what I’m going to run for,” Steyer told the Washington Post before his announcement. “I’m not going to run for anything. I’ve said all along, the question I always ask is: Where can I make the most differential impact? And when I look at the jobs I can run for in California, they all have reputable Democrats running for them already.”
Both moves increase the likelihood that under California’s top-two primary system, the November elections for governor and senator will be Democrat vs. Democrat affairs.
Under the system, the top two vote-getters in the June primary election face each other, regardless of party.
Ose joins two other Republican candidates for governor, San Diego businessman John Cox and Travis Allen, an assemblyman from Orange County. That means the relatively small Republican voter pool will be split three ways in the June primary, decreasing GOP chances of having someone in the runoff.
Had Steyer jumped into that contest as well, the Democratic primary vote would have been split five ways, perhaps allowing a Republican to reach the November ballot.
With Steyer out, the two Democratic frontrunners, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, can breathe sighs of relief that they won’t have to contend with Steyer’s bottomless reservoir of money.
Kevin de León, the outgoing president pro tem of the state Senate, is likewise relieved that Steyer is not opting for the U.S. Senate because it virtually guarantees that he’ll have a one-on-one duel with Sen. Dianne Feinstein without having to spend his relatively scant financial resources on fending off Steyer.
In fact, de León might look to Steyer for some financial help, since the two have been partners on environmental issues in Sacramento.
There are still a few weeks remaining before candidates for both offices must make official declarations of candidacy, but with the announcements by Ose and Steyer, the fields are pretty well set.
The key factor in the contest for governor is John Chiang, the Democratic treasurer. He’s been trailing badly with just 9 percent support in the latest Public Policy Institute of California poll and has shaken up his campaign team in hopes of moving into contention.
On the Senate side of the twin races, Feinstein enjoys a strong, albeit not overwhelming, lead over de León – 41 percent to 26 percent in PPIC’s December poll – but much of his support comes from Republicans who presumably don’t know that ideologically, he’s several notches to the left of Feinstein.
Feinstein’s campaign will make sure voters know about the ideological split, and also attempt to hang the Capitol’s sexual harassment scandal around his neck.
CALmatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/articles/author/dan-walters. Dan Walters: firstname.lastname@example.org