Tom Steyer, the Democratic megadonor behind a campaign calling for President Trump’s impeachment, said Monday that he won’t run for elected office in 2018, ending months of speculation about his political future.

Instead, Steyer plans to spend $30 million to turn out millennial voters and help Democrats retake the House of Representatives, he said in a press conference in Washington, D.C.

“I’m not going to run for office in 2018 — that’s not where I can make the biggest difference,” he said, speaking in the lobby of an office building a stone’s throw from the U.S. Capitol. “My fight is in removing Donald Trump from office, from power, and that starts with taking the House back in 2018.”

The former San Francisco hedge fund chief will target two dozen Republican-controlled House districts, as well as several swing seats currently held by Democrats, he said. That includes all seven California districts that elected GOP members of Congress but voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, as well as House Speaker Paul Ryan’s southeastern Wisconsin district, where Ryan is facing a challenge from a Democratic ironworker.

In past election cycles, Steyer, one of the largest Democratic donors in the country, has spent up to $90 million on political races.

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The possibility of a Steyer candidacy had been a wild card looming over California’s midterm elections. He acknowledged last year that he was considering a run against Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and there’d also been speculation in Golden State political circles that he could run for governor. While his money would have shaken up either race, it could have been difficult for Steyer — who’s never run for office before — to find a path to victory. Some think he might still be eyeing a presidential run in 2020, although he declined to comment about that on Monday.

State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León — a longtime friend and political ally of Steyer’s — is already running against Feinstein. Because of Steyer’s considerable resources, Feinstein allies had seen him as potentially a bigger threat than de León. Steyer didn’t say whether he was supporting de León in the Senate race.

Having Steyer out of the Senate campaign is helpful for both Feinstein and de León, and raises the chances that they’ll both move on to November’s general election. “Steyer’s decision ensures that this year’s Senate race will be a clear binary choice,” said Mac Zilber, a Los Angeles political consultant running a Super PAC backing de León.

Steyer has elevated his national profile over the past few months with a series of pro-impeachment TV ads accusing Trump of obstructing justice and putting Americans at risk. The $20 million campaign, which launched in October, has largely featured Steyer talking into the camera, introduced as a “citizen.” It has collected more than 4 million signatures in favor of impeachment.

That effort will continue, Steyer said, in part because flipping the House would be a crucial factor in impeachment. “The Republican Party will not cross a president who controls their base, regardless of what he says or does,” Steyer said. Supporters of the campaign will deliver copies of Fire and Fury, the new book that’s roiled Washington with claims about Trump’s fitness for the presidency, to all 535 members of Congress, he said.

Steyer has been critical of the Democratic leadership in Congress, saying in a statement last month that if the party’s leaders don’t support impeaching Trump, “the people will rise up to replace them with representatives who will.” But he said his funding for voter mobilization efforts in specific House districts wouldn’t be based on a litmus test of whether Democrats in those districts support impeachment.

“The so-called pundits argue that we have to choose between talking about impeachment and talking about policy,” a plaid tie-clad Steyer said. “The fact is, the two are fundamentally intertwined.”

His organization, NextGen America, has previously registered and mobilized young voters on college campuses in Virginia, which has seen big Democratic victories in recent years. That work will be the model for the larger national effort, Steyer said, arguing that young people disgusted with Trump will help carry Democrats to victory. It will be the biggest youth voter mobilization effort in U.S. history, the group claimed.


(c)2018 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)

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