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SFGate: 3 key Latinos in state endorse Harris for US Senate

August 4, 2016

SFGate: 3 key Latinos in state endorse Harris for US Senate

by John Wildermuth

A trio of past and present Latino legislators are backing Democratic state Attorney General Kamala Harris in her race for the U.S. Senate, pointedly ignoring Orange County Rep. Loretta Sanchez’s effort to become the nation’s first Latina senator.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De León, state Sen. Ricardo Lara and former Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, all from Los Angeles County, on Wednesday endorsed the former San Francisco district attorney in the Democrat vs. Democrat battle to replace retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer.

“Kamala is a leader for all Californians,” De León said in a statement. “In this political climate that’s been defined by fear and divisive attacks, I’m proud to stand with Kamala Harris — someone who proudly fights for the best ideals of our state and our democracy.”

Harris, who finished well ahead of Sanchez in the June primary and leads in all the polls, already has the support of Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and former Speaker John Pérez, both Los Angeles Latino leaders.

“This is a pretty big hit for Loretta,” said Roger Salazar, a veteran Democratic consultant. “It shows that Kamala has made serious inroads into the Latino community.”

That’s bad news for Sanchez, whose hope for a November victory is centered on strong support from California’s fast-growing Latino community. While a July Field Poll found Harris with a 39 percent to 24 percent lead among all likely voters, Sanchez had a better than 2-to-1 lead among Latino voters.

The 56-year-old Sanchez, who was first elected to Congress in 1996, grew up in Anaheim as one of seven children born to parents who emigrated from Mexico. She talks regularly about her pride in her heritage and her belief, as she said in a Sacramento campaign appearance earlier this year, that “we need a Latina in the U.S. Senate.”

That concern is echoed by San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a Sanchez supporter, who noted that Harris’ most recent endorsements come from “the male Latino legislative leaders.”

“We have different opinions,” she said. “A focus on what we’re doing, shattering a glass ceiling, is important ... it might be symbolic to others, but it’s important to me.”

But Harris’ new Latino endorsements may be less about ethnicity and more about day-to-day politics in California, Salazar said. For someone like Sanchez, a congresswoman who has never run for office outside of Orange County, it’s hard to build the visibility needed to win a statewide campaign.

Harris and California legislators and state officials “all came up through the same system, meeting together at party events and building up relationships,” he said, while Sanchez was spending much of her time in Washington, D.C., 3,000 miles from California — and California politics.

That California tilt for Harris shows in the endorsements. The list on her campaign website shows endorsements from 19 of the state’s 26 Democratic state senators and 32 of California’s 52 Democratic Assembly members.

By contrast, Sanchez’s endorsements include a single state senator and eight Assembly members, all of them Latino.

It’s a different story on the congressional side, where Sanchez is backed by 17 of California’s 39 Democratic members. Harris lists only nine supporters from the state’s congressional delegation, all but one of them from Northern California.

Sanchez showed this week that those congressional relationships extend across party lines when she picked up the endorsement of former GOP Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon of Santa Clarita (Los Angeles County). McKeon, who retired in 2014 after 22 years in office, was chair of the House Armed Services Committee, where he served with Sanchez.

“I have worked closely with Loretta for many years and have seen firsthand her ability to put partisanship aside and work with Democrats and Republicans,” he said in a statement.
With no Republican in the Senate race, Sanchez is touting her experience on national and international affairs, including her work in Congress on defense and homeland security issues, to attract GOP voters in November.