Garcia, a 37-year-old Peruvian-American immigrant, is Long Beach's youngest mayor and an early backer of Senate frontrunner Harris. Like a number of Harris supporters, he's a fan of the mayor. But when Garcia talks about the future of the Democratic Party, he focuses on the newcomers.
"Latinos—and I think I can speak for a lot of us—we just want the best candidate, it's not so much about electing a Latino to elect a Latino," Garcia said. Harris, he added, "has a great record as attorney general, she's dynamic, she's a woman, and would also be very historic running for the Senate."
Many Latino leaders saw Boxer's retirement as a prime opportunity to elect California's first Latino senator, and Villaraigosa has long been a political standard bearer for the community. But even though he and his advisers studied polling showing him doing very well with Hispanic voters, Harris—who is half-African-American and half-Indian—kept Villaraigosa from consolidating minority support. According to a source familiar with Villaraigosa's deliberations, Villaraigosa's support from black voters, always high in his mayoral runs, bounced significantly in polling matchups against white Democrats like Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who already has started a 2018 gubernatorial campaign.
That made 2018 look like a better bet, especially considering his longer-term interest in being governor. Villaraigosa considered, but decided against, running for that office in 2010.
"He's kept his options open," said Mickey Ibarra, a political consultant who founded the Latino Leaders Network, which hosted Villaraigosa as a keynote speaker for its annual awards ceremony last month. One attendee shouted "governor!" when he took the podium. "I've had several conversations with Antonio, and it's clear the choices between 2016 and 2018 are very different races," Ibarra said. "He's said all along he's very interested in considering the possibility of the race for governor."
In fact, Villaraigosa was really exploring both races simultaneously over the last month. Some donors who already had signed on with Harris suggested they'd instead support him in a gubernatorial bid, according to the source close to Villaraigosa, pushing him toward the later opportunity.
But Villaraigosa can't necessarily count on being a minority unity candidate over a dozen years after Time noted his rising influence. He may be avoiding Harris, but there are other figures on the rise in California who might pique the interest of voters and some of those donors. There's Villaraigosa's popular successor in Los Angeles City Hall, Eric Garcetti; Rep. Xavier Becerra, who is still considering jumping in the Senate race; and new Secretary of State Alex Padilla, to name just three Latino Democrats. And by 2018, Villaraigosa will have been out of office for five years, with his name-recognition dropping by the day.