Pressure grows on California governor to name Harris replacement

Pressure grows on California governor to name Harris replacement

The quiet race to fill Vice President-elect Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisThe Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation Biden can rebuild trust in our justice system by prioritizing prosecutorial reform Harris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence MORE’s seat in the United States Senate is breaking into the open as potential contenders battle furiously for California Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomVaccine skepticism emerges as early test for Biden Mayor of Denver apologizes for holiday travel after advising residents to stay put California, Texas shatter single-day nationwide record for new coronavirus cases MORE’s (D) attention.

Newsom will have the opportunity to appoint a replacement to fill the remainder of the California senator's term once she formally resigns to become vice president. Those interested in the job have been preparing behind-the-scenes campaigns since President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation US records 2,300 COVID-19 deaths as pandemic rises with holidays MORE chose Harris as his running mate.

Sources close to Newsom say he has been inundated for months with calls from friends and allies of those interested in the job. At a press conference Monday, Newsom said he had not begun contemplating the choice he will soon face.


“No timeline has been established. The process is just beginning to unfold,” Newsom said. “We are working through the cattle call of considerations related to what’s the profile, the right choice to replace Sen. Harris.”

A clear top tier has emerged, according to half a dozen Democrats around the state.

Leading the field is Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D), a former state senator and president of the Los Angeles City Council. Leading Hispanic Democrats are beginning to coalesce around Padilla as a consensus pick.

“Secretary Padilla would be honored to serve as California's U.S. Senator, but is focused on ensuring every vote is counted and elections are certified in what was a historic voter turnout for the 2020 elections,” said David Beltran, Padilla’s political adviser.

Reps. Karen BassKaren Ruth BassThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump OKs transition; Biden taps Treasury, State experience Five House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet Pressure grows on California governor to name Harris replacement MORE (D) and Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Top contender for Biden Defense chief would be historic pick Overnight Defense: 5 US service members killed in international peacekeeping helicopter crash in Egypt | Progressives warn Biden against Defense nominee with contractor ties | Trump executive order to ban investment in Chinese military-linked companies MORE (D), longtime members of Congress with deep veins of support in the state, are likely to be considered. So are virtually every one of California’s executive officials, like Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis (D), state Controller Betty Yee (D) and Treasurer Fiona Ma (D). State Senate President Toni Atkins (D) is also a likely contender.

Some Democrats pointed to Robert Garcia, the mayor of Long Beach, as a contender receiving significant consideration. Garcia, 42, immigrated to the United States from Peru when he was 5 years old; he is the city’s first Latino mayor and its first openly gay mayor.


“The good news is he’s got lots of good choices in front of him,” former Gov. Gray Davis (D) told The Hill in an interview. “He’s blessed with a host of very capable candidates.”

Outside pressure is mounting. The progressive group Democracy for America on Tuesday released a letter urging Newsom to choose another Black woman to replace Harris, the first Black woman to represent California in the Senate. In August, the super PAC Latino Victory Fund began a “Pick Padilla” campaign.

“This is an opportunity to increase Latino representation in the U.S. Senate and to break a barrier for Latino elected officials in California,” said Nathalie Rayes, who heads the Latino Victory Fund. “We need to break this barrier if we truly want a government that reflects the communities it serves.”

The long list of potential contenders illustrates the complexity of California’s political scene, and the difficult choice Newsom faces.

In a state with two distinct political poles, Newsom will consider a candidate’s political geographic base. Newsom, Harris and Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - COVID-19 fears surround Thanksgiving holiday Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight Whitehouse says Democratic caucus will decide future of Judiciary Committee MORE (D) all hail from the San Francisco Bay area, which could advantage someone — like Padilla, Bass, Garcia and Lee — from the Los Angeles area. He will get pressure to replace California’s first woman senator of color with another, like Bass, Lee, Kounalakis, Yee or Ma.

And he will need to mollify progressives with a candidate who is at least as liberal as Harris. Some liberals hope Rep. Katie Porter (D) would fit the ideological bill, though just about every candidate emerging as a serious contender is as liberal as Harris.

“Newsom likes to make history,” said Garry South, a longtime Democratic strategist and a former Newsom adviser who predicted Newsom would pick someone of Latino descent. “In California’s 170-year history, we have never had a Latino representing us in the U.S. Senate, even though 40 percent of our population is Hispanic.”

One Democratic strategist said Newsom is facing particular pressure to choose a progressive Latina, but that there are few such high-profile women waiting on the bench. One who might emerge as a contender is Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D).

It is unlikely that Newsom would pick a straight white man to replace the only Black woman in the Senate.

Newsom must also consider whether he wants to choose a senator who will run for reelection in 2022, or a caretaker, someone near the end of his or her career who would step aside to make way for what would become an all-out brawl two years down the line. If he chooses a candidate who wants to serve beyond this term, he may favor someone who has been through the grind of a statewide campaign, like Padilla, Kounalakis, Yee or Ma.

Some who might otherwise be considered for the Senate seat will also be on a short list for jobs in the Biden administration. California Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraClyburn: Biden falling short on naming Black figures to top posts Biden picks first Latino to lead Homeland Security House Hispanic Republicans welcome four new members MORE (D), the most prominent statewide elected official after Newsom, is said to be in the running to be Biden’s attorney general or to head the Department of Homeland Security.

There are complicated personal politics to consider as well. Newsom is close with Feinstein, to whom he is likely to turn for advice. So is Padilla, who served as Feinstein’s personal aide soon after he graduated from college. Newsom and Padilla share a political consulting team. Newsom is also close with Garcia, one of the few elected officials who backed him in his first run for governor a decade ago.

Virtually any decision Newsom makes will thrill a small segment of California’s Democratic electorate — and disappoint many others who do not make the cut.

“The governor certainly faces a perilous choice,” said Thad Kousser, who heads the political science department at the University of California-San Diego. “Precisely because there are so many prominent and qualified potential appointees who would absolutely love to be elevated to the high-profile position, he’ll make one strong ally and ten enemies no matter what he decides.”

On Monday, Newsom hinted at the difficulty of the choice ahead of him.

“ ‘When’ is one part of that decision-making process,” he told reporters. “ ‘Who’ is perhaps the more challenging part of that decision-making process.”