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10 Races to Watch in 2016: California Senate

Boxer, left, is a Democrat from California. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

With her campaign account nearly dry, and staring down at least two years in the minority, Democratic operatives in California say there is a strong possibility Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, 74, will retire in 2016.  

Boxer has indicated she will decide whether to seek another term  in early 2015. But if she steps aside, pols will encounter the Golden State's first open Senate seat in more than two decades — a scenario that would have reverberations throughout California's political ranks.  

Democrats say any number of elected officials who have waited decades to run could pile into the race. Democrats mention well-known names such as Attorney General Kamala Harris and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom as possible candidates. But it's unlikely both Democrats will run.  

Other possible Democratic candidates include Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, as well as Reps. Raul Ruíz, John Garamendi and Jackie Speier. If any members of Congress jump in the race, it would create open-seat opportunities, some of which might be in competitive districts.  

Also, this is California, home of Hollywood heavyweights and tech giants, so there's always the possibility of a famous face entering the fray.  

Such a large bench of Democratic candidates could complicate the future of the seat.  

This could be California's first open Senate race since voters approved a top-two primary system. Under this law, the two highest vote recipients, regardless of party, advance to the general election. If too many Democrats crowd the field, they could splinter the vote and allow two Republicans to advance to the general election, effectively losing the seat for the party.  

But the Republican bench is less certain.  

California Republicans saw a net loss of one House seat in 2014 — an otherwise banner year for the GOP — which would likely deter GOP candidates from running statewide.  

GOP operatives in California say the ideal candidate would be one who could self-finance a bid, as it costs millions per week to run statewide.  

Editor's Note: Over the two weeks, Roll Call will unveil its Top 10 Races to Watch for 2016. The final edition will run Jan. 2 with the full list. In no specific order, additional races to watch in 2016 include  Illinois Senate, Nevada Senate, North Carolina Senate Pennsylvania Senate, Florida's 2nd District, New Hampshire's 1st District and  New York's 11th District Related Stories: Exclusive: DSCC Chairman Makes Recruitment Pitch for 2016 Roger Wicker Looks for Fast Start at NRSC Female Senators Write Letter to Goodell, Want NFL to Adopt 'Zero-Tolerance' Policy Script Will Be Flipped in 2016 Senate Majority Battle The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.