Carla Marinucci

By Carla Marinucci
February 3, 2015 4:31 PM

Could California’s open 2016 U.S. Senate race turn into a a tussle between two powerhouse Democratic ethnic voting blocs — Latinos and African Americans?

That’s what some experts are saying after Democratic California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who is half African American and half Indian American, quickly assumed the role as the front-runner when she became the first declared candidate in the race to replace retiring U.S> Sen. Barbara Boxer. Endorsements have been rolling in — but now the California Legislative Latino Caucus is pushing back.

The caucus chair and its supporters are saying that Democrats should hold off on a “coronation” for Harris, because a competitive contest would fire up state voters at the polls in 2016.
Many of them are urging former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a national Latino leader who headed the U.S. Conference of Mayors, to jump into the race. The filing deadline is more than a year away.

“One of the goals of the Latino Caucus is to develop avenues that empower the Latino community all across the state of California,” California Latino Legislative Caucus chair and Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, said in a press release.

The caucus Tuesday released a survey it said found that Harris has “a head start among Democratic candidates, but her advantage over her potential opponents is far from overwhelming given that she has been on the statewide ballot TWICE since 2010. Given the fluidity that is typical of primary elections and a constituency that has not voted in strong numbers but has the potential to be energized, there is real potential here for a credible Latino candidate.”

“There many talented Latino leaders who could help energize Latino Democratic voters,” said Caucus vice chairman Sen. Ben Hueso of San Diego in the release. “Former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (66% Name ID); U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (46%); Secretary of State Alex Padilla (41%); and U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra (25%) are just a few.”

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