California Attorney General Kamala Harris (D) has decided to run for outgoing Sen. Barbara Boxer’s (D-CA) seat, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has opted against it and while billionaire and environmentalist Tom Steyer hasn’t made a final decision yet, he has been taking serious steps toward running for Senate in 2016.
Steyer has shown interest in running for Senate, holding a series of meetings and making calls over the last several days about the shape of what a campaign would look like — that includes a budget for running, staffing, and a timetable for when he would announce, according to a top aide to Steyer who was not authorized to speak on the record.
Steyer, the 57-year old billionaire environmentalist who founded the group NextGen Climate Action and poured over $70 million into the midterm election cycle to boost climate change friendly candidates (with poor results), would try and shape his campaign around economic, education, and environmental justice.
Steyer has already had the pollster Paul Maslin survey a possible run for Senate.
“Research makes clear a path,” the Steyer aide told TPM. “Voters really find the story of leaving the private sector because he could not align values with being an investor to focus on the next generation giving his resources away to be really powerful.”
Arguably though, one of the biggest advantages Steyer would have if he did decide to run is his wealth, a key asset in a large and expensive media market like California, especially if one of the other contenders in the race is Harris, whom Democrats feel is skilled herself at amassing a serious war chest for running for statewide office. A Harris adviser told TPM on Tuesday that her campaign is looking to raise a war chest in the eight figures ballpark.
Steyer’s camp acknowledges that his wealth is one of his strengths.
“His resources would allow him to go out and tell his story and define himself on his terms in a state that requires significant resources to communicate,” the Steyer aide said.
But, like most wealthy candidates running for office, Steyer has to avoid getting similar treatment to Mitt Romney during the Republican presidential candidate’s 2012 campaign, when Democrats painted him as an out-of-touch rich guy. So Steyer would also call attention to the fact that he and his wife, Kat Taylor, run Beneficial State Bank (formerly One Pacific Bank), a not-for-profit community development bank. One Pacific’s aim is to make money available in low-income communities.
Over the past few days Steyer has also been reaching out to Democratic donors and funders in the Bay Area. The goal, according to the aide, is not to raise money for running (because he can self-fund).
“This is less about Tom raising money but more about drying money up,” the aide said.
Steyer doesn’t have a firm campaign team yet but he has had operatives doing political work in his orbit who are in a position to quickly move into a Senate campaign. Some of them include staffers from NextGen Climate action like Heather Wong, Erin Lehane, a former Labor consultant and political operative and Jim Margolis, a political consultant who has done consulting for President Barack Obama, Boxer, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).