Incoming Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood), who is set to become one of California's most powerful Latino politicians, on Thursday endorsed state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris for U.S. Senate.
His backing could aid Harris' efforts to court Latino voters while undercutting their support for her top Democratic rival, Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Orange.
Many analysts believe Sanchez needs strong support among Latinos to survive the June primary. The top two finishers in that election, regardless of party affiliation, will face off in November to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.
Harris "is an environmental leader — successfully defending California's world-class environmental protections in court. She'll fight to bring California's climate leadership to Washington and get results for families across our state," Rendon said in a statement released by the Harris campaign.
Elected as the next Assembly speaker Monday, Rendon will take the helm of the chamber in March. His endorsement runs counter to many other members of California's congressional delegation and those in the California Legislative Latino Caucus, who have endorsed Sanchez.
"I'll fight every day in Washington to lift up working families and make a difference in the lives of Californians, just as I have done in my career as a prosecutor," Harris said in a statement thanking Rendon.
One of the nation's most influential Spanish-language newspapers, La Opinión in Los Angeles, in October also endorsed Harris.
According to a Field Poll released last week, Harris leads Sanchez, 27% to 15%, among Californians likely to vote in the primary. State Assemblyman Rocky Chavez (R-Oceanside) was third at 7%, and two former chairmen of the California Republican Party — George "Duf" Sundheim and Tom Del Beccaro — were at 3%, according to the poll.
Forty-four percent of the likely voters surveyed said they remained undecided, a group dominated by Republicans and independents.
Sanchez's strongest support was from likely Latino voters; among that group, she led Harris 31% to 19%.
Also on Thursday, Harris denounced the Obama administration's effort to find and deport Central American migrants who sought refuge in the U.S. and stayed illegally.
The policy, she said, goes "against our nation's fundamental values of equality and justice for all."
Earlier this week, Sanchez and other Democrats in Congress sent joint letters to the president and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, asking them to immediately halt federal operations targeting families from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
"We compromise our family values when we tear apart families and instill fear and mistrust among communities. This is exactly why I have been tirelessly fighting in Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform to solve our border crisis," Sanchez said in a statement released Thursday.
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