In November, should Joe Biden win and become president, Senator Kamala Harris will be Vice President, and moving into the Naval Observatory, one heartbeat away from the presidency, and giving up her Senate seat.
Only one man will decide who is going to replace her: Governor Gavin Newsom.
Speculation on that replacement has run rampant in recent weeks: Secretary of State Alex Padilla, Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and Congresswoman Karen Bass are reportedly being heavily considered, while others have only thrown their hat into the ring.
While the Governor’s office has been quiet on the issue, most likely because there are still several weeks before election day and that Trump may get re-elected, there have been many hints on who the candidate will be. Hispanic groups have said that a Hispanic lawmaker should be appointed to fill out Harris’ remaining two years as the state is now around 40% Hispanic.
However, African-American groups and women’s groups have also said that a woman or black woman should be appointed as it would honor Harris and keep California’s current representation up. Asian-Americans have also had many candidates be interested as well.
The Governor has shown preference for Bay area politicians, increasing their odds, and
What is known for sure is that a Republican won’t be appointed and that the pick will be locked in before election day to ensure a smooth transition of power should Biden/Harris win.
The Globe took a look at every candidate currently being considered, those who have lobbied for the position, or have announced their interest in the Senate seat.
Current Position: California Secretary of State (2015-)
Prior Position(s): California Senate (2006-2014), Los Angeles City Council 1999-2006)
Pros: Padilla is young, Hispanic, and is a good friend to Newsom. In fact, he was one of Newsom’s first major SoCal supporters, helping voters come around to the idea of another Governor being elected from north of Fresno. He’s also helped him a lot since being elected, defending California from other states trying to put in California restrictions.
He’s also quite popular, being reelected as Secretary of state with nearly 65% in 2018. And, more importantly, he has statewide name recognition. He’s been on the news many times in the past year alone over Census and COVID-19 related issues.
Cons: He’s been sued. A lot. Especially over election claims. Bernie Sanders supporters generally don’t like him as they still they they cost him California during the 2016 primaries.
If he’s chosen he’s going to have to answer for this, which may means a shaky 2022 Senate run, especially if there is another strong Democratic candidate.
Newsom wants somebody long-term, and picking someone who has made far-left Democrats angry may not be the best call to make.
Current Position: Attorney General of California (2017-)
Prior Position(s): U.S. Congressman (1993-2017), California Assembly (1990-1992)
Pros: Democrats love Becerra for his crusade-like fervor against the Trump administration. He’s sued them a lot, over 50 times in 4 years as of this writing. If that doesn’t paint him as a loyal Democrat, nothing will.
While he is older than Padilla, he does carry more legislative experience. And being another Hispanic Los Angeles politician with statewide name recognition helps too.
Republicans will wince if Newsom picks him (anyone on this list really, but especially him), but he may go after Trump and other officials if they’re voted out, which is an appealing prospect for many Dems.
Cons: For as much as people love Becerra, his stock has gone down recently among many as his “law enforcement reforms” have brought criticism for either being too broad or too punishing. This is an issue that is going to see a lot of play in the next few years, and a strong but nuanced stance is needed. Becerra’s has been anything but that. His age has also come up recently as a limiting factor, and he has been sued more than Padilla, at least in Trump cases when they sued right back.
Plus he has been vehemently against fracking, something that will put him at odds with Trump or Biden, whichever is elected. Newsom is against it too, but if the Biden/Harris camp make it clear that they don’t want to be pushed on this, it can work against Becerra.
Current Position: U.S. Congresswoman (1998-)
Prior Position(s): California Senate (1996-1998), California Assembly 1990-1996)
Pros: An African-American woman from Oakland with a long track list of social justice causes, she already appeals to most of Gavin Newsom’s wants in a Senator.
She is strongly Anti-Trump, anti-gun, pro-environment, pro-AIDS research, and, really, she rarely votes against her party and fights like hell when she sees injustice. It’s no wonder why she keeps being recommended for the job.
She is also respected for fighting for the little guy, even among Republicans. Her campaign for affordable public housing in increasing gentrified Oakland has won her much local support, and she made a national name for herself this year by participating in the National Convention.
Cons: Prior actions, such as voting against fighting back against terrorists in 2001 shortly after 9/11, could mark her down as too wily even for Democrat tastes.
She has also supported some very radical groups, such as the Black Panthers, in the past. She even worked on Bobby Seale’s 1973 Oakland mayoral campaign.
While a loyal, and passionate, Democrat, she may be a bit much as Senator and could bog it down by continuing on with local, pet causes rather than bring more state-issues to the Senate. That would lose her most of California if she tried for reelection after that.
Current Position: Congresswoman (2011-)
Prior Position(s): California Assembly 2004-2010)
Pros: Despite being from LA, she has Bay Area bona fides by being close with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and that can impress Newsom.
Her actions before politics, such fighting against the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980’s, won her early renown. And she is willing to work with those across the aisle. After all, she was one of the few Democrats willing to work with Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was California Governor 2003-2011.
A black woman with a medical background, she could also fill in huge gap needed in the entire Senate by having a voice against how COVID-19 has been hitting poor minority communities harder than others.
She is 66, but she comes with a lot of firsts, including being the first black woman speaker of any state assembly in the entire country.
And for Republicans, this is one of the few candidates they can live with getting the spot for two years, lessening any blow Newsom could get from them. Newsom wants to be reelected in two years, and Bass would be one of the few candidates they would not really complain much about.
Cons: Out of all the people on the list, Bass comes in with the fewest faults – it’s why she was so close to getting the VP nod herself.
Her big weakness is rural areas. Whenever major agricultural or farm bills come up, she often doesn’t know where to go. And if she is going to represent the entire state, she needs to have all parts of the state under her belt, not just part of LA. She isn’t as local issues focused as Lee, but she still needs to be more bigger-picture focused.
Current Position: Congressman (2017-)
Prior Position(s): Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Department of Commerce (2009-2011)
Pros: He’s young, Asian-American, and represents the South and East Bay, yet another person who fits the criteria of what Newsom is looking for. He’s also big among Bernie Sanders Democrats. He even served as chair of his national campaign. If he’s elevated to Senator, many see him as Sander’s “successor.”
To many in the Bay Area, he fights for them and plays as an intermediary between constituents and tech companies, which is fitting considering his law background.
If Newsom wants to swing young and diverse, Khanna is his man.
Cons: He barely has any elected experience, and his politics swing farther left than what many California Democrats want, which is really saying something if you think about it. He would light up the farther left for sure, but even Gavin Newsom doesn’t really push that far most of the time.
Khanna is also seen as a losing candidate by many. He did win in 2016, but only after many prior attempts at running for Congress.
He does also have strong support in the Bay and among South Asians, but his support outside of that dwindles. He would most likely isolate SoCal, and they’re feeling isolated enough with both Senators being from the Bay Area.
Khanna is a possibility and has been mentioned a lot, but it is way too soon for him. Maybe when Feinstein leaves.
Current Position: U.S. Congressman (2001-)
Prior Position(s): State Senate (1996-2000)
Pros: Schiff has somehow stayed popular in California and routinely brings in a lot of party funds from fundraising in northern LA County.
One of the lead investigators of Trump’s impeachment, he became known nationwide in 2019 for his questions against the president, which wins him points from Democrats for at least trying…
… But that is immediately taken away when he is also remembered for the guy kinda botching the entire thing. Republicans already hate him for his fervor against Trump, and now Democrats don’t like him much for failing to impeach him. Democrats loved him until he lost.
He’s also a white male above the age of 60 from Los Angeles. That makes him nowhere on Newsom’s radar.
Current Position: U.S. Congresswoman (2019-)
Pros: A recent Congresswoman, usually she wouldn’t even be considered with less than a term in the House, but she is a friend of Kamala Harris. After all, Harris appointed her as an independent monitor of banks when she was Attorney General in 2012.
Also a relatively young, female from Orange County. If by chance Newsom does pick her, this would set Republicans off, but also maybe open up the election in Orange County to take the seat back.
Cons: Way too little lawmaking experience with not a lot of name recognition north of Bakersfield. Also, Newsom hasn’t even so much as mentioned her yet.
Current Position: Member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors (2014-)
Prior Position(s):U.S. Secretary of Labor (2009-2013), Congresswoman (2001-2009), State Senate (1994-2001), State Assembly (1992-1994)
Pros: Female, Hispanic, and lots of lawmaking experience. Obama chose her as Secretary of Labor, and she was a popular Congresswoman down in LA. She doesn’t have much experience in the Bay Area, but her national service should help smooth over that for a statewide office.
She’s also big on immigration reform and is used to being the first Hispanic woman in many office, including being the first in any cabinet position ever. This made her nationally known, and that name recognition may win her points with Newsom.
Solis also has grudging respect from all rivals due to the passion behind her causes, which have skewed more and more environmental in recent years. And with California needing a bigger wildfire advocate, she could be the woman.
She has made a lot of enemies over the years, including in her own party, with former opponents calling her obnoxious.
She has has also been investigated for campaign fundraising violations. Those have been put to bed for the last few years, but her selection could trigger a deeper look into them, and that could prove embarrassing
Solis may be big on the environment and cleaning up the LA area, but she is not so squeaky clean herself.
Others have also been mentioned, including Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), Lt. Governor Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, activist Dolores Huerta, and even Newsom himself. However many of these candidates have either been out of politics too long, never been elected before, don’t meet what Newsom is looking for, authored AB 5, or are too inexperienced on national politics for the position.
Who will get it?
Newsom will most likely consult with many party officials over this and weigh the pros and cons himself, and will also look into who would replace his candidate at their post. Republicans are chomping at the bit to field a candidate against a non-incumbent in many of those areas candidates are in, so Newsom needs to be careful.
And that’s only if the Democrats win the race on election day.