Well, why not?
That’s the answer some political analysts are giving about the possibility of a Latino, or Latina, jumping into the race to replace Senator Dianne Feinstein.
First, a little update. The longtime California senator’s term is up next year, and while she hasn’t announced whether she’ll run for reelection or step down – saying she’ll decide soon enough – recent campaign finance filings show that she may be on the way out the door. For what has always been an extraordinarily expensive race, Feinstein raised just under $600 – $558.91 to be exact – in the last three months of 2022, according to the most recent documents filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Additionally, her campaign “Feinstein for Senate 2024” — reported having just $9,968.56 cash on hand; both measly amounts for a serious “war chest.”
The last time she ran in 2018, she walloped Kevin de León with her staggering $16 million. His future in politics is uncertain as he is facing a recall for being part of a racist conversation that rocked Los Angeles politics.
And now, the scuttlebutt is that this will indeed be the most expensive Senate race in history and that serious candidates would need at least $40 million to pull it off.
So what does that anemic Feinstein fundraising of late mean for those who may be interested in running?
Two Southern California members of Congress, Adam Schiff and Katie Porter, have already announced their intentions to run and are raking in the bucks – collecting about $30 million between the two of them – Schiff with the overwhelming bulk of it – in just the few weeks since jumping into the fray.
“They have made a calculation that they know that it’s going to be a very intricate and maybe even bloody campaign for the seat, and because they share many of the same donors and organizations and they have to corral support, they have to start building arguments. I imagine that they’re fundraising operations have prospectus and they’re going to start having conversations on why donors should align themselves with anyone in particular, demonstrating a path to victory,” says Luis Alvarado, a political consultant in the Los Angeles area.
And that, adds Alvarado, could work to the advantage of a Latino or Latina candidate. “There could be a Latino spoiler who jumps in and can make some waves, and they would not have to corral so many economic resources, especially one who has high name ID and has the capacity to connect with the Spanish-speaking community,” he said.
One name floating around is former Los Angeles congressman and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. While he hasn’t commented about it – and wouldn’t as a sitting Cabinet secretary anyway – Becerra is on a hypothetical short list that includes former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, among others.
Becerra would certainly be an extremely strong candidate, says Democratic analyst Melisa Díaz in Washington, D.C., who has known Becerra since his days as chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in the 1990s.
“He was an excellent member of Congress doing a great job in his district, he knows the legislative process, he knows the issues, he knows Washington, he has the relationships, he has the connections. He has the advantage that the others don’t have in that he knows the Latino community, which is an incredibly important vote in California; he speaks Spanish and the community knows who he is,” she said.
The key, Díaz adds, would be to see how many actually decide to run. “Obviously the more there are, the more who would dilute the vote (during the primary) and make it harder to win,” she said.
While no one besides Schiff and Porter has formally announced, fellow members of Congress Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna have expressed interest. Lee has told colleagues she intends to run and Khanna has said he wants to see what Lee does before making a decision.
An important issue to consider, offers Alvarado, is the crucial Latino vote, and a Latino candidate would certainly have a leg up there. A quarter of all Latino voters in the country live in California, and were the key in several crucial races in last year’s midterm elections. Seven of the state’s major cities are home to the largest number of Latino residents, including Los Angeles, where Latinos represent almost 50 percent (47%) of the population.
“The possibility of another Latino or a Latina is incredibly strong because Los Angeles County or Southern California in general, is a great majority of the voting population and many Latinos.”
And would another Latino senator to represent the state be an issue for voters?
Nah, says Alvarado. “I don’t think that the California population would get too hung over on the ethnicity of their Senate representatives and would look more to their qualifications and capacities,” he said.
On the other hand, Salvador “Chamba” Sánchez, a political science professor at the Los Angeles Community College District, says that while Becerra would be a good candidate, he doesn’t see it happening, in part because one of the other candidates is strong and would be good for the state’s Latino residents.
“Congressman Schiff is my representative (in the U.S. House). He is ready to serve in the U.S. Senate. Good candidates will be running for Senator Feinstein’s seat next year, but Rep. Schiff is the best among the other candidates,” says Sánchez. “I like Becerra, but I don’t see him running. I will still vote for Schiff. He is a hero here in California – he is viewed as the one who has been saving the republic (as a member of the committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection). All progressives like him for daring to take on Trump.”
Sánchez adds that Becerra may be looking elsewhere, actually, and that another Latino in the Senate representing the state may dredge up old controversies, especially if Feinstein decides to leave before her term is up.
“It is rumored that Becerra is eyeing the governor’s mansion when he is done with the Biden administration. Another Latino to the U.S. Senate might deepen the division between African Americans here in the state. Governor Newsom has promised to appoint a Black woman if Senator Feinstein resigns. When Kamala Harris vacated the seat, there was a power struggle between Latinos and African American leaders. African Americans wanted Karen Bass or Barbara Lee, and he decided on (now-Senator Alex) Padilla,” Sánchez said.
Alvarado said Latino voters are just as interested in “bread and butter” concerns as anyone else casting a ballot.
“The Latino vote has evolved from the days of (the anti-immigrant) Proposition 187 and most of the Latinos who do vote are now second and third generations who don’t find a bold call to battle as powerful as basic kitchen issues, such as the price of eggs and milk, health insurance, and living challenges such as there’s not enough housing, and the homeless on the streets. So, for Latinos, we’ve actually graduated from being just an outside entity. People have to remember that the Latinos who do vote are citizens and that means they’ve probably been born here and English is their first language now. Those immigrants who gained citizenship still think immigration is important, but not as much as (issues such as) crime, fiscal challenges,” he said.