California was poised to host a major fight within the Democratic Party after Sen. Barbara Boxer announced she would retire at the end of her term. But in a state brimming with charismatic Democrats, Antonio Villaraigosa's unexpected decision to forgo a campaign means Kamala Harris may be on track to win her party's support without a serious challenge.
That should no longer be surprising. Nationally, Democrats like to talk about themselves as an unruly family that rarely agrees on anything. But in recent elections, the party has forcefully united behind a single candidate and left possible challengers to either drop out or become irrelevant. Truly competitive primaries for top offices have become a thing of the past. Hillary Clinton isn't the only prominent Democrat to avoid a serious primary; most of their down-ballot favorites are locking up pivotal nominations, as well.
In last year's Senate races, for instance, Democratic Senate candidates dodged major primaries everywhere except a parochial fight in Hawaii. Democrats are ready to repeat the trick next year: Harris has a free pass in California, and after Ted Strickland's announcement Wednesday that he's running for the Senate, most Ohio Democrats expect his younger opponent to step aside and take one for the team. And there's no better example of Democrats avoiding an intraparty battle than in their presidential primary, where despite misgivings about her hawkish viewpoint and close ties to Wall Street, Clinton is poised to escape a serious challenge from her left.