That sigh you hear is Antonio Villaraigosa’s relief that Eric Garcetti won’t be running for governor next year.

Garcetti, the current mayor of Los Angeles, would have been a strong contender vis-à-vis Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the frontrunner in all polls. But the most immediate beneficiary of Garcetti’s recent announcement of non-candicacy is Villaraigosa, his predecessor in the mayor’s office, who has been running second in the polls.

That’s especially true because of the unique dynamics of the state’s top-two primary system.

Had Garcetti made the run, he would have siphoned not only Southern California voter support, but Southern California money, away from Villaraigosa, who was already having trouble raising the many millions of dollars a California gubernatorial campaign requires.

For both reasons, a Garcetti candidacy would seriously erode Villaraigosa’s chances – perhaps even erased them – of finishing in the June primary’s top two and thus securing a place in the November runoff.

A September poll of potential voters by the Public Policy Institute of California confirmed that Villaraigosa needs strong support in Southern California, and among Latino voters, to have a shot at the November ballot.

Could Garcetti have won it all had he run?

We’ll never know. While Los Angeles mayors have never done well in their bids for the governorship – Tom Bradley lost twice in the 1980s – Garcetti would have been a formidable candidate.

A mano-y-mano duel with Newsom, the former mayor of San Francisco, would have been a high-stakes, high-dollar interregional shootout by two relatively young, ambitious and infinitely glib California politicians that would have elevated the survivor into the ranks of presidential contenders.

So what now for Garcetti?

He’s just 46 and a change in dates for Los Angeles city elections gives him an extra year and a half in the mayor’s office, allowing him to serve until 2022.

“I am passionate about my city and my family; both are here in Los Angeles,” he said in one of his tweets announcing his decision. “We have a lot of work left to do to build a stronger city, state, and nation and I know I can best build on our progress here in LA.”

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U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s declaration for re-election closed out that option for Garcetti – and opened the door for another ambitious young Los Angeles politician, state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, to challenge her for the seat.

Garcetti quickly declared support for Feinstein and could be in the mix for her seat in 2024 if she wins re-election and serves out her six-year term. And he could be in the mix for a Senate appointment by the next governor should Feinstein give up her seat before then, as many political insiders believe is possible or even probable.

Finally, Garcetti may be exploring a presidential run in 2020. He’s visited key primary states, had discussions with key Democratic donors and will travel to South Carolina – site of an early 2020 primary – next year.

“I think all the rules are off,” he said when asked by a Wisconsin television interviewer in June about a potential presidential run. “No African American could be president until one was. No reality star could be president until one is.”

Villaraigosa – and Newsom – don’t care what Garcetti does next, as long as it’s not seeking the governorship of California.

CALmatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary.

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