“The battle to replace Harris in the Senate (if Biden wins) is going to involve even more lobbying, dirt-dishing and backroom dealing than this year’s VP campaign,” tweeted Reid Wilson, a political correspondent for The Hill.
Absolutely right! Despite California’s status as one of the largest — and among the most Democratic — states in the country, the political class in the state has been largely the same for a very long time.
Which means there are a whole lot of ambitious Democrats who have been waiting a long time to climb the ladder. And they know that opportunities like a Senate seat — particularly one that you would be appointed to before you ever had to run for it — simply do NOT come around much. (The last time there was an appointment for a California Senate vacancy was in 1991!)
Before we get to the handicapping of the potential appointee, it’s important to know the appoint-er. Under California law, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom would have the sole power to appoint a replacement for Harris. That appointee would serve until 2022, when Harris’ term expires — at which point he or she would have to run for a full term in their own right. (Sidebar: The possibility also exists that Newsom could call a special election before 2022 for the remainder of Harris’ term. But with the coronavirus cloud still hanging over the state and the cost of holding an unscheduled statewide election in California, that seems very unlikely.)
The first thing to consider, then, are Newsom’s own politics. The former mayor of San Francisco will be up for a second term as governor in 2022, and will undoubtedly have that reelection race in mind when picking the Harris replacement. Newsom could use the pick to court a critical constituency, like, say the Latino community, which continues to grow in political power in the state.
He will also face some pressure to replace Harris, the first Black and South Asian American senator from the state, with a person of color — particularly if the national conversation about race continues to bubble in the country.
And don’t forget that Newsom eventually sees himself in the White House, or at a minimum running for the presidency, so he will keep in mind the long-term message he is sending with the pick as well.
Now, to the potential picks! (The candidates are listed alphabetically by last name — so don’t freak out.)
* Rep. Adam Schiff: For much of the spring, Schiff was the most high-profile foil to Trump as the face of the House’s successful effort to impeach the President. There’s no doubt that Schiff is interested in the Senate, but it’s not at all clear that Newsom has much interest in appointing a white guy to Harris’ seat. Schiff’s best chance could well be when Feinstein’s seat comes up again in 2024.
Now, the race to replace Harris is already well underway, but you won’t likely see much of it flash above the surface just yet. Why? The candidates likely believe it would be a bad look to be openly campaigning for an opening that doesn’t exist yet.
But make no mistake: No matter how placidly they appear to be gliding above the political waterline, they are paddling furiously beneath it to get in position to be the pick, if and when it comes.