Antonio’s Swan Song?

TURNED DOWN AND OUT--Did Antonio Villaraigosa make a horrendous political mistake when he chose not to run for California's open U.S. Senate seat two years ago, when the presidential election voter turnout was certainly greater than it was Tuesday? 

Then Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris may have been the rising star of California politics, but chances might have been stronger for Antonio securing a spot in the general election ballot in 2016 than the disappointing third place finish Tuesday that may have ended his political career. 

Villaraigosa's public reasoning was that he wanted to be governor of California, not a U.S. senator.

But many in Antonio's camp were ready for that senate race and had long plotted a not-very-private scenario in which he might wind up succeeding either of California's two aging incumbent senators -- Barbara Boxer or Dianne Feinstein -- be it by their retirement or death. 

Villaraigosa, though, wanted it all. He claimed to be practically broke when he stepped down as mayor of Los Angeles, and he had set out with the help of some rich friends to be financially independent when he sought office again. 

Antonio also privately told insiders he thought Gavin Newsom, even as lieutenant governor, would be an easier opponent than Kamala Harris, the darling of California Democrats, especially in a mano a mano faceoff in the 2018 general election. 

"Antonio didn't have any doubt he would finish No. 1 or No. 2 in the primary -- who wouldn't have put money on that?" a longtime Villaraigosa insider told me in the early Wednesday morning after their candidate finished out of the runoff in the gubernatorial primary. "He's shocked. This is a more bitter disappointment for Antonio than when he lost the (2001) mayoral runoff to Jimmy Hahn. 

"He thought he had all his ducks in line -- the campaign's financial backers, his political base in LA, and growing support up and down the state. This was the race. This was the time. A place in the runoff was his." 

He just never thought it was his to lose.


(Tony Castro, a former political reporter and columnist, is the author of five books, the most recent being “Looking for Hemingway: Spain, The Bullfights and a Final Rite of Passage” (Lyons Press) He is an occasional contributor to CityWatch. Twitter: Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.