California’s New Senator Will Make History. But Can He Win A Full Term In 2022?

With Sen. Kamala Harris about to become Vice President Kamala Harris, California is getting a new U.S. senator for only the second time in 25 years. On Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he would appoint Democratic Secretary of State Alex Padilla to Harris’s soon-to-be vacant seat.

For months, Padilla has been seen as a logical choice for the job. He’s got plenty of experience in California politics — Los Angeles city councilor (1999-2006), state senator (2006-2015) and secretary of state (2015-present). He’s a close ally of the governor, and like Newsom he is more of a technocrat than someone who identifies clearly with either the progressive or moderate wing of the party. He also brings geographical balance to the California delegation as the first senator from Southern California since John Seymour left office in 1992.1

Most notably, though, the son of Mexican immigrants will be California’s first senator of Hispanic descent — pretty surprising given that California has the third-highest share of Hispanic residents of any state in the country. In fact, a plurality of California residents are Hispanic (39 percent, compared with 37 percent who are non-Hispanic white, 14 percent who are Asian and 6 percent who are Black), making Padilla’s appointment a long overdue milestone.

Nevertheless, Newsom’s decision won’t please everyone. The governor has been under pressure from virtually every constituency and interest group in the Democratic Party to pick a senator who represents them. For instance, many civil-rights leaders and women’s groups were pressuring Newsom to choose a Black woman, such as Rep. Karen Bass or Rep. Barbara Lee. With Harris’s departure, there will be no Black women in the next Senate, and there have been only two in all of American history (there are four current senators, and five former senators, of Hispanic descent).

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