California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra, seen during a confirmation hearing in January, has emerged as the leading candidate for the post in the 2018 election. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Patrick McGreevy
February 26, 2017

The race for California attorney general in 2018 has been shaken up by the so-called “Trump factor,” with the state’s newly appointed top lawyer, Xavier Becerra, seeing his profile boosted to the national stage by legal challenges to the Republican president.

What was shaping up to be a free-for-all with several strong candidates before Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Becerra last month is now looking to be a much narrower race, with some candidates signaling they may drop out.

Becerra, 59, was a Democratic congressman from Los Angeles when he was picked to fill out the remaining two years of the term of Kamala Harris, who resigned the post after she won election to the U.S. Senate last year.

Because California supported Democrat Hillary Clinton for president by a wide margin over Trump, most voters are likely to see Becerra as heroic if he continues to stand up to the new president, said Larry Gerston, professor emeritus of political science at San Jose State.

“In Becerra’s case, his appointment instantly made him the favorite to gain election to a full term in 2018 anyway,” Gerston said. “His anti-Trump stance can only help that election effort, particularly in terms of discouraging any potentially noteworthy opponents.”

Reflecting his role as a leading national figure opposing Trump policies, Becerra gave the keynote speech Friday at the Democratic National Committee’s winter meeting in Atlanta, where hundreds of party activists from all over the country cheered his biting verbal attacks on Trump, whom he called an “imposter.”

Politicians that have campaign committees to raise money for the attorney general’s race include three Democrats: state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, former Assemblyman Dario Frommer and former state Sen. Ellen Corbett.

Campaign committees have also been formed by Republicans including San Bernardino County Dist. Atty. Mike Ramos.

Ramos, 59, said the governor’s decision to appoint Becerra means the attorney general will benefit from being the incumbent in the contest.

“It’s a huge advantage,” said Ramos, who is reconsidering a run for attorney general because of Becerra’s appointment.

Ramos said he hopes to meet with Becerra. He also is watching what Becerra does in the next month and may drop out of the race if the new attorney general demonstrates support for victims’ rights, public safety and the continued use of the death penalty.

“If he is going to be that attorney general, then — because I love what I’m doing now — I would continue to be the district attorney of San Bernardino County,” Ramos said.

During confirmation hearings, Becerra said he supports the death penalty but wants more reforms and resources to make sure it is fairly applied.

Frommer, a Democrat from Glendale, is also weighing whether to fold his campaign committee for attorney general — which holds $650,000 — now that his friend holds the job.

“He’s on the right side of the issues that I care about,” Frommer said of Becerra. “Even though he has not run statewide before, when your title on the ballot is attorney general for the state of California, it’s going to be very hard for someone else to prevail.”

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