With Kamala Harris back on the campaign trail as Joe Biden’s running mate, California may well have an empty Senate seat to fill come November.
Biden announced Harris as his pick for vice president on Tuesday — a decision that came after a drawn-out vetting process that his campaign limited to Democratic women.
If Biden and Harris win the election in November, California Gov. Gavin Newsom will choose someone to fill Harris’ seat in the Senate. Unless the Democratic governor opts to call a special election next year, whomever he picks will serve out the rest of Harris’ term until January 2023.
Already, Newsom is facing pressure to appoint a historic candidate. Harris, who ended her own presidential bid last December, is only the second Black woman to ever serve in the U.S. Senate. There has yet to be a Latinx senator from California, even though the Latinx community makes up roughly 40% of the state’s population.
Rep. Karen Bass, the Los Angeles area congresswoman who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus and was also in consideration for Biden’s vice president pick, has already been floated as a possible choice for the Senate seat.
Bass played a key role in the economic policy task forces that Biden’s campaign put together with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). She also gained a bigger national profile during the vice-presidential vetting process, including attacks from the right for her past in community activism and her visits to Cuba.
The congresswoman praised Harris’ selection as Biden’s running mate on Tuesday, saying the senator’s “tenacious pursuit of justice and relentless advocacy for the people is what is needed right now.”
But Newsom has an abundance of other California Democrats to choose from ― including Kevin de León, a Latino and a former president of the California Senate who mounted an unsuccessful primary challenge to Sen. Dianne Feinstein in 2018; freshman Rep. Katie Porter, a rising star among progressives; state Attorney General Xavier Becerra; California Secretary of State Alex Padilla; Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti; and San Francisco Mayor London Breed.
“If he’s going to make history, I think that leads in the direction of appointing a Latino senator,” said veteran Democratic strategist Garry South. “I don’t think he’ll be constrained by precedent on this. He will want to do something unique.”
The future electability of whomever he chooses to appoint to the seat may also factor in Newsom’s decision. The last two times someone was appointed to fill a Senate seat in California, they ended up losing their election bid to retain the seat shortly after, which bolsters the argument for a candidate with experience winning statewide ― especially in such a large and populous state, South said.
Newsom’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, a spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times that the governor would not be making any decisions until the November election and was more focused on handling the state’s coronavirus response.
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