Ever since California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced her candidacy for the seat Sen. Barbara Boxer will vacate next year, there's been a steady drumbeat of support for another potential candidate, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa -- one that's been framed as Latinos versus the world.
National media outlets have seized on the narrative of the dustup, which goes like this: Prominent Latinos in this Latino-heavy state are mad that national (and some state) Democratic leaders have lined up behind Harris, and feel that her "coronation" is denying potential candidates such as Villaraigosa a fair shot at the seat.
So this week, the state Legislature's Latino Caucus released a not-too-subtle poll, which, in their words, indicates "the inclusion of a Latino candidate in the U.S. Senate race ... will energize a pro-Democratic Latino electorate."
The survey of 600 likely voters found that Villaraigosa had slightly more name identification than Harris (66 to 62 percent), though it doesn't touch on either candidates' favorability ratings. It found that Harris, a former San Francisco district attorney, would have a 10-point lead over Villaraigosa, the former Assembly speaker, in a hypothetical four-way matchup that included two white candidates: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and Republican Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin.
(Harris, for what it's worth, is half black and half Indian.)
In a news release Tuesday morning, members of the Legislative Latino Caucus -- which is largely made up of Southern California members -- insisted that their poll isn't about either Harris or Villaraigosa. But they also took a swipe at the attorney general, saying her "advantage over her potential opponents is far from overwhelming," considering she has been on a statewide ballot twice in the past five years.
“There many talented Latino leaders who could help energize Latino Democratic voters,” said state Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego), vice chair of the caucus.
He cited Villaraigosa as well as Rep. Loretta Sanchez from Orange County, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles.
"The Latino Caucus does not have a position on the U.S. Senate race other than to raise awareness that Latino candidates could be very competitive and energize all Democrats in California," Hueso stated.
Don't feel too bad for Harris, though -- she's doing fine making news of her own. The poll comes the same day her office announced a large settlement for the state's pension funds, as she hosted a Los Angeles news conference announcing the conviction of a man who ran a revenge porn website, and hours before she was set to hold a late afternoon fundraiser in Sacramento for her Senate bid.
Harris has also been racking up -- and publicly flaunting -- endorsements ever since her announcement, and she has been working to buff up her profile in Southern California in recent years. In addition to moving to Los Angeles recently and marrying an L.A. lawyer last year, Harris spent more than $3.6 million on last year's re-election -- including pouring $1.2 million into ads in SoCal in the final days of her campaign last fall, despite the fact that she was clearly cruising to victory.
Harris spokesman Brian Brokaw said the attorney general isn't -- and has never -- "taken any campaign for granted."
"She has won statewide office in California twice since 2010 by assembling a coalition of voters that represents the diversity of the largest state in the country, and that is exactly how she intends to win election to the U.S. Senate. As the daughter of immigrants and a champion on so many of the issues facing California’s Latino population — homeowner protections, immigrants rights, environmental justice, combating gang crime, fighting elementary school truancy — she looks forward to once again earning the support of the state’s Latino population and representing all Californians in the Senate," he said.
We shouldn't be surprised by the drama: It's been more than two decades since political climbers in California had a shot at a Senate seat. It's drawing some interesting lines between allies, however: Check out what California Democratic Party Executive Director Shawda Westly said at a political conference last Friday: