On Tuesday, Joe Biden made history by selecting Senator Kamala Harris to be his running mate in the November election. About 12 seconds after the news broke, Californians began looking into the crystal ball, pondering one very big question: If Biden and Harris thump Trump and Pence, who will fill Kamala’s seat, one of the plummiest of plum political gigs in the state?
The answer is up to Governor Gavin Newsom, who according to state law gets to select a person to occupy an empty U.S. Senate post. If Harris becomes vice president, the governor’s choice would finish out Harris’ six-year term, which ends in early 2023. That person would also likely be the heavy favorite in the next election, and potentially a force in national politics far into the future. After all, Dianne Feinstein was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992, and is still there nearly three decades later. Harris’ predecessor Barbara Boxer held California’s other Senate seat for 24 years.
Who will Newsom appoint if the opportunity presents itself? Perhaps the only person who knows is Newsom himself. That said, there are a number of quality candidates and aspirants, including a coterie of Angenelos. Here’s how the locals stack up, in horse race form, complete with horse race names.
The Details: Alex Padilla has been serving as Secretary of State in Sacramento since 2015, but his roots are in Los Angeles, and a glance back at his early days shows that he knows how to position himself politically. Raised in Pacoima, Padilla graduated from MIT and was elected to the L.A. City Council in 1999 when he was just 26. Two years later his fellow council members voted him in as the panel’s president, making him the youngest person and the first Latino to hold the job. Padilla, who later served eight years in the state Senate, has earned strong reviews for his current role overseeing California elections, and he is tight with Feinstein. Plus, he has a history of working with Newsom, and the governor could bolster his own legacy by naming California’s first Latino U.S. Senator. As a bonus, if Newsom taps Padilla, he then gets to pick Padilla’s replacement as Secretary of State, and how do you like them dominos? A lot could happen between now and when Newsom would name a replacement for Harris in January, but Padilla jumps to an early lead.
The Details: If Padilla is considered the pacesetter, then Attorney General Xavier Becerra isn’t far behind. Then-governor Jerry Brown picked Becerra to be the state’s top lawyer in late 2016 (he succeeded Harris, who had just been elected to the Senate), and Becerra has earned headlines and accolades by repeatedly taking on the Trump Administration in the courts. Before that, Becerra spent 24 years in Congress, representing portions of Los Angeles. He chaired the House Democratic Caucus and was the first Latino to serve on the Ways and Means Committee. He knows everyone in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., and is adept at dealing with mega-power players. As with Padilla, Newsom could make history by selecting California’s first-ever Latino U.S. Senator, and again, the governor would also get to pick the next state attorney general. Becerra has everything it takes to run hard and can surprise—after all, he was Brown’s out-of-nowhere choice for AG four years ago.
The Details: Six months ago, the notion of elevating five-term Los Angeles Congresswoman Karen Bass to the U.S. Senate was far-fetched. But so was the idea of Bass as vice president. Yet after she made Biden’s short list, and seemed to impress absolutely everyone she came into contact with, her star is bright, and no one would scoff if Newsom picked the Chair of the House Congressional Black Caucus to move over to the Senate. While news stories about her visits to Cuba and comments she made after the 2016 death of Fidel Castro may have made Bass too risky to place on the national ticket, particularly when Florida is in play, few Californians care about that. Bass may be starting this race-that’s-not-really-a-race behind others, but the recent past proves that she can sprint to the front of the field.
The Details: Quick, which Californian has been the greatest foil to Trump? If you said Congressman Adam Schiff, you’re not alone. The Burbank-based legislator and chair of the House Intelligence Committee shot into the stratosphere last year with his leading, lashing role in the presidential impeachment proceedings. Schiff, a ten-term Congressman who is also a member of the Appropriations Committee, seemed to revel as an infuriated Trump attacked him, which just had the snowball effect of making him more popular in Democratic circles. Schiff, who grew up in Framingham, Massachusetts, attended Stanford and started his career in the L.A. branch of the U.S. Attorney’s office, is an ambitious sort who is comfortable with seemingly anything thrown his way. He checks a lot of boxes, but the timing may not be right, and one has to ask: At this moment in history, would Newsom send a 60-year-old white guy to Washington?
The Details: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti boosted his national profile with a sort of soft run for president that ended in early 2019, and the telegenic, bilingual figure is one of the best-known politicians in California. Yet others on this list have much stronger ties with Newsom, and the city’s notorious homelessness problem and recent high coronavirus numbers could clutter Garcetti’s path. Even if Garcetti doesn’t get the gig, he still could wind up in Washington. He’s got a long relationship with Biden and endorsed him for president at an important moment in the election cycle. Many think Garcetti is in line for a Cabinet post or another juicy gig.
The Details: L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis may be something of a long shot to earn the selection, but her resume and connections make her impossible to rule out. Solis knows D.C. from her eight years in Congress, and she and Biden had the same boss when she was the U.S. Secretary of Labor under President Barack Obama. Solis has held her current gig, which involves representing some 2 million county residents, since 2014.
The Details: Other names have been bandied about, and various media reports have mentioned Los Angeles area players including state Senator Holly Mitchell, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, and County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. These individuals and others are accomplished politicians, but at this moment they appear to trail many stronger candidates. Still, when it comes to one person making a choice—and this is solely Newsom’s choice—the unpredictable can happen.
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