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Silicon Valley Billionaire, Tom Steyer, Positioning Himself Front And Center

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

In this photo taken Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015, billionaire Tom Steyer discusses climate change at a symposium in Sacramento, Calif.

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

California has a wealth of millionaire and billionaire donors opening their checkbooks this election season. And it’s common for these donors to bankroll campaign ads, but Silicon Valley Democrat Tom Steyer has taken the unusual step of appearing in them.

Steyer is not only a top California donor, the Washington Post found the former hedge fund manager is the top donor to Super PACs in the entire nation this election cycle. Last week, Steyer released an ad in support of California’s Proposition 56, which would raise tobacco taxes.

Steyer talks to the camera throughout the spot,"If we can save even a few lives, it’s worth it."

This summer, he went further, introducing himself at the end of two ads attacking Donald Trump.

"We’re going to build a wall," Trump says in the ad.

"That’s not America," says Steyer in the ad. "We’re all Californians. I’m Tom Steyer. It’s time to speak out."

USC political analyst Dan Schnur says Steyer putting himself in front of the camera reminds him of 2002.

"Then-private citizen Arnold Schwarzenegger ran a ballot initiative to expand support for afterschool programming," Schnur says. 

Schnur says Steyer may be preparing for his own run for governor, when Jerry Brown terms out in 2018. Right now, he’s well-known in political circles, but doesn’t have the name recognition of other candidates such as Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom.

"By running several million dollars worth of ads with his face and voice behind ballot measures that are almost certain to pass and against a presidential candidate who will lose California by landslide margins, Steyer is considerably raising his name ID," says Schnur. 

A spokesman for Steyer says he’s narrating the ads for the sake of transparency and solely focused on the current election.

But, when it’s over, he may also have put himself in a better position for a run in the next one.