Boxer to Step Out of Senate Ring; Familiar Slate Seen for Open Seat

For the first time in a generation, California voters are poised to fill an open U.S. Senate seat.

Speculation was rampant in San Diego and coast-to-coast Thursday after fourth-term incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer announced she’s retiring in 2016, leaving a rare national post in the most populous state in the country, which carries a lot of political weight.

There’s doesn’t figure to be anywhere near the 135 candidates in Gov. Gray Davis' recall election of 2003.

But the Golden State could still have a full and familiar slate of wannabe senators.

And pundits say, don't rule out Hollywood headliners or Silicon Valley high-tech billionaires.

"I have to make sure this Senate seat stays progressive -- that is so critical,” Boxer said in a personally produced video released via YouTube. “And I want to help our Democratic candidate for president make history. But you know what? I want to come home."

Boxer will have been in office for 24 years by the time she comes home from the Capitol, opening the door for the prospect of a Republican finally taking that California U.S. Senate seat.

GOP party bosses have fond hopes of Condoleeza Rice being interested or La Jollan Mitt Romney, but they might well be content with the likes of Neel Kashkari, last year's gubernatorial runner-up.

Or former state party chair Ron Nehring of Poway, last year's runner-up for lieutenant governor.

Or Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, runner-up for state controller.

Or San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, whose name is on some lips.

Will they create enough buzz in the atmosphere of a blue state voter stronghold?

"It's only going to be big if they have the funding, and that means they have to prove they have a chance,” said Voice of San Diego Editor in Chief Scott Lewis. “And that's going to be a hard thing. So it is probably more of an interesting discussion among Democrats right now."

That discussion starts with Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom and State Attorney General Kamala Harris, both long mentioned as prospective candidates for governor in 2018.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is also rumored to be in the mix – along with prominent show business types and high-tech, venture capitalists.

"We don't want some billionaire from Silicon Valley; we don't want some Hollywood elite,” said Tony Krvaric, chair of the Republican Party of San Diego County. “We want somebody who can understand what regular Californians are going through. Small business. Job creation. Taxation. Regulation. People are struggling in California, as they are all across the country."

There's conjecture that Michelle Obama will bid for the Senate seat -- a page out of Hillary Clinton's playbook in New York -- because the first family is supposedly leaving the White House for California.

In an interview Thursday, Lewis dismissed that scenario: “Democrats in this state have been preparing for this (open seat) and thinking about it for a long time, and I think the idea that they would let a kind of carpetbagger come in and take care of that for them is probably not a very realistic assumption.”

Ditto for Krvaric: “I think Americans are ready for something fresh, both on the national side and here locally. It seems for decades we were re-treading or recycling. Recycling's good, but we don't have to recycle all the politicians. So let's get something fresh out there."

There is the possibility that two Democrats could make the runoff under the state's top-two "jungle primary" system; a much more remote chance for two Republicans.

National political observers already are predicting the campaign will wind up being the costliest Senate race in history, with spending from all sources soaring well into nine figures.

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