The president's reelection team believes Villaraigosa has been one of its most helpful surrogates on the trail this year in wooing Hispanic voters to come out in greater numbers and delivering an even greater margin of victory for the president among those voters.
He won't be the only Hispanic elected official in the Charlotte spotlight. The Obama convention team announced this morning that 37-year-old San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro will deliver the keynote speech on Tuesday, Sept. 4.
Nearly 22 million Hispanic Americans are expected to be eligible to vote in the presidential election this year. If the rapid population growth rate among Latinos continues apace, that number will be even greater in 2016.
Villaraigosa is no stranger to political ambition—and its attendant disappointments. He describes his first, unsuccessful attempt at capturing City Hall in 2001 as "audacious." Certainly, a presidential run would be no less so. Fast changing demographics may be his entree into the 2016 conversation, but he is well aware they cannot be the rationale for a candidacy.
"When I ran in 2001, everyone said, 'Antonio, you are going to be mayor one day, why run now?'" Advisors told him the Latino slice of the electorate would not be large enough to deliver him a victory until 2017.
"I said, 'What?' and I just went after everybody. The Latinos said I wasn't Latino enough and not running a Latino campaign," he said. He doesn't see the Latino vote as a monolithic bloc, but he's also never been the only Latino in a race. "Every race I've had, I've always had Latinos in the race. It's interesting."
As with most politicians from outside Washington, D.C. eager to play up centrist credentials, Villaraigosa tends to portray himself as a problem solver.
"I want to be part of a discussion about what I call the radical middle that says the way for us to forge ahead is to move ahead and you can only do that by taking the best of both views and forge a consensus based on results and putting the nation first," he said.
One example is his stance on the deficit and debt reduction plan put forth by the bi-partisan Simpson-Bowles Commission. Democratic party leaders, including President Obama, never fully embraced the commission's 2010 plan, for fear of alienating key constituents over entitlement reforms. Were Villaraigosa in Congress with a chance to vote on Simpson-Bowles, he would support it. "Absolutely," he said, without hesitation. (Paging Nancy Pelosi.)
He also casts a critical eye toward teachers unions.
"I think there are teachers unions around the country realizing they want to improve standards of the profession, improve the quality of their profession, and ultimately attract the best and the brightest to their profession. The vast majority of teachers are dedicated and committed, but I do believe some of our teachers' unions, while not the biggest problem, are the most powerful defenders of a broken system." (Paging Randi Weingarten.)
To be sure, this former Southern California ACLU president who has fought against the death penalty and for same sex marriage equality since 1994 will have plenty of data points to share with potential liberal Democratic supporters in Iowa and New Hampshire should he choose to take the plunge.
And he saves his strongest criticism for the Republicans, specifically on immigration.