California Hispanics are the vanguard for a new political paradigm

California Hispanics are the vanguard for a new political paradigm
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California’s senior U.S senator, Democrat Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinThis week: Senate barrels toward showdown over Pompeo Sunday Shows Preview: Emmanuel Macron talks ahead of state dinner CIA declassifies memo on nominee's handling of interrogation tapes MORE, 84, announced that she is running for reelection to the seat she has held since she was elected in 1992.

Also announcing to challenge Feinstein for the seat is the “Lion of Los Angeles,” State Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León.

By itself, 50-year-old León’s challenge of 25-year veteran Feinstein would be interesting but not spellbinding. But with former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s running for governor against former San Francisco mayor and current Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, we have a very interesting situation.

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Villaraigosa has been out of office for four years but being from Los Angeles County, in which live 9,818,605 people, 47 percent of whom are Hispanic, Villaraigosa brings some serious potential support to the campaign. Adding the black population (8 percent) and Asian population (13 percent) of Los Angeles County, Villaraigosa has a potential 68 percent of Angelinos to work with, as he did when he built a coalition that elected him mayor of Los Angeles – the first Hispanic mayor of Los Angeles since 1872.

California has never had a Hispanic U.S. senator. Early in the 2016 campaign that elected Attorney General Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisKamala Harris will no longer accept corporate PAC money Sen. Harris: I look forward to the day we need a nursery off the side of the cloakroom Dem senators unveil expanded public option for health insurance MORE as senator, Republican Assembly member and California’s highest ranked Hispanic Republican, Colonel Rocky Chavez (USMC ret.), briefly ran for the Senate seat of retiring Democrat Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerThe ‘bang for the buck’ theory fueling Trump’s infrastructure plan Kamala Harris endorses Gavin Newsom for California governor Dems face hard choice for State of the Union response MORE but withdrew when campaign cash didn’t materialize from establishment Republicans. Embarrassingly, no Republican made the general election; two Democrat women did.

Nor has California ever had a Hispanic attorney general; the appointment of former Los Angeles congressman Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraTrump's EPA quietly revamps rules for air pollution Flurry of lawsuits filed over citizenship question on census Trump continues to put Americans first by adding citizenship question to census MORE to replace Harris makes him the first. Becerra is running for his own term in 2018; he will undoubtedly win.

This is a fascinating political scenario, the election year of 2018 in California, and it portends the same in future years in other states such as Texas, Florida, Arizona and Colorado — states with heavy Hispanic futures.

California has a “top two” primary system that takes the top two primary vote-getters into the general election in November of 2018, regardless of political party.

Early handicapping has Villaraigosa running second to Newsom in the June primary and running well in November – unless a Republican comes in second, which looks unlikely. Two Republicans are currently running for governor; one of them, John Cox, ran against Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaAfter Dems stood against Pompeo, Senate’s confirmation process needs a revamp ‘Morning Joe’ host: Trump tweeting during Barbara Bush funeral ‘insulting’ to US Trump and Macron: Two loud presidents, in different ways MORE for the U.S. Senate seat in Illinois. The other is Huntington Beach state assemblyman Travis Allen — unknown outside his district. Neither has a chance.

In the Senate race, de León looks to run second to Feinstein, supported by the leftist surge of the Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersOvernight Finance: Treasury mulls sanctions relief for Russian aluminum firm | Trump floats tying NAFTA talks to border security | 14 states hit record-low unemployment Kamala Harris will no longer accept corporate PAC money Judd Gregg: Who wins with Paul Ryan's departure? MORE Democrat constituency that surfaced last year and, of course, supporting Hispanics. The Sanders surge has continued to gnaw away at the Democrat center that Feinstein represents. De León is a universal free medical care advocate; that is hugely popular with many Democrats.

De León will run hard against President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpRand's reversal advances Pompeo New allegations could threaten Trump VA pick: reports President Trump puts on the pageantry for Macron’s visit MORE, capitalizing on Feinstein’s comments about how Trump might become a good president, given time.

In contrast, De León has said: “Every day, his (Trump’s) administration wages war on our people and our progress. He disregards our voices. Demonizes our diversity. Attacks our civil rights, our clean air, our health access and our public safety.” Trump-targeted Hispanics might respond strongly in the primary, which will benefit de León.

With typical establishment political arrogance, Bill Carrick, Feinstein’s longtime political guru, described De León’s bid as “wasting money and energy on what will turn out to be a rather difficult campaign for Sen. De León. … He’s a virtual unknown. He’s a termed-out politician looking for a gig.”

Sounds like what was said about Feinstein after she was trounced for governor in 1990 by Republican Pete Wilson.

Countering that arrogance are announcements of some big endorsements De León received following his announcement; they came from Democracy for America, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s progressive political action group, and California legislators Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher of San Diego and Kevin McCarty of Sacramento, and former state Sen. Dean Florez.

California Latino voters are politically liberal (34 percent); middle-of-the-road (30 percent) or conservative (36 percent), according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

This California situation is great political theater, particularly if one is Hispanic. Three prominent Hispanics are running for statewide office for the first time, and not against each other. California has a chance to elect a Hispanic governor for the first time ever (Lt. Gov. Romauldo Pacheco inherited the office when Gov. Newton Booth was elected U.S. senator in 1875) and, for the first time, a U.S. senator and an attorney general.  

A Hispanic is guaranteed to win the California attorney general’s office; can Hispanics win the governor’s mansion and a U.S. Senate seat too? We shall see.

Raoul Lowery Contreras is the author of “The Armenian Lobby & American Foreign Policy” and “The Mexican Border: Immigration, War and a Trillion Dollars in Trade.” His work has appeared in the New American News Service of the New York Times Syndicate.