California Senate leader Toni Atkins announces run for governor in 2026

The leader of the California Senate on Friday said she would run for governor in 2026, entering a campaign that is far from the minds of voters but is quickly filling with candidates in a state that requires frequent fundraising to compete in some of the nation’s most expensive media markets.

Toni Atkins, a Democrat from San Diego, made history as only the third person and the first woman to hold both of the state Legislature’s top jobs — speaker of the Assembly and president pro tempore of the Senate.

Atkins is still in the latter role, but plans to step down early next month as she enters the final year of her term and cannot seek reelection because of term limits.

California, despite its progressive reputation, has never had a woman or an openly LGBTQ governor. Atkins, who is a lesbian, could be both. But she’ll have to compete against a strong field of Democrats, including Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, former Controller Betty Yee and Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis. Attorney General Rob Bonta is also considering a run to succeed current Gov. Gavin Newsom, who cannot seek a third term.

Kounalakis, Thurmond, Yee and Bonta have the benefit of appearing — and winning — in a statewide election, meaning voters will be familiar them. Atkins has only ever been elected by voters in San Diego.