Villaraigosa Skips U.S. Senate Race Against Kamala Harris

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Antonio Villaraigosa says he won't run for the U.S. Senate in 2016. (Tyche Hendricks/KQED)

Ending weeks of intense speculation, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has decided not to launch a bid for the U.S. Senate in 2016 -- a decision that may mean none of California's biggest political stars will mount a challenge to the campaign of Attorney General Kamala Harris.

"As I think about how best to serve the people of this great state, I know that my heart and my family are here in California, not Washington, D.C.," wrote Villaraigosa in a brief statement posted to his Facebook page on Tuesday afternoon.

The news comes after a number of Democrats publicly and privately suggested that Villaraigosa could mount a strong campaign by appealing to Latino voters and moderate business groups. And that speculation had also fueled debate over a brewing split among Democrats in the 2016 campaign to replace the retiring U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California).

Villaraigosa was praised in a statement released by his potential-but-not-to-be rival, Kamala Harris, after the news broke.

"Mayor Villaraigosa and I have been friends and colleagues for many years," said Harris. "The city of Los Angeles, and our state and nation, have benefitted greatly from his leadership. I know he has much more to offer."

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Harris' campaign team has produced a steady stream of endorsements from Democratic VIPs and prominent Latinos in recent weeks, actions many political observers saw as a way to generate enough momentum to block a potential Villaraigosa bid.

The decision now means three prominent Democrats -- including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and wealthy environmental activist Tom Steyer -- have taken a pass on a Senate run against Harris. Other Democrats, though, could still be considering the race. U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) has publicly said she's thinking about running. And a few Republicans are already angling for the 2016 campaign, including Assemblyman Rocky Chavez (R-Oceanside) and former state GOP chairman Tom Del Beccaro.

A recent statewide Field Poll put Harris in an enviable, but perhaps not insurmountable, position in the early going. In fact, it showed a number of other less prominent Democrats could also be contenders, should they choose to run.

Villaraigosa, who served as speaker of the state Assembly prior to his eight years as Los Angeles mayor, has openly talked in the past about a possible 2018 race for governor. He didn't offer any hint of that, or other roles, in his brief announcement on Tuesday afternoon.