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Who's in and who's out in the race to replace Rep. Xavier Becerra in Congress

Who's in and who's out in the race to replace Rep. Xavier Becerra in Congress
Wendy Carrillo waves a flag at a 2013 May Day march in downtown Los Angeles. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times) (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) is still awaiting confirmation as California's next attorney general, and there's no date set for an election to replace him, but that hasn't stopped the furious pace of palace intrigue.

The names of more than a dozen potential candidates to replace Becerra in Los Angeles’ 34th Congressional District have been floated since Dec. 1, when Gov. Jerry Brown named him as his chosen successor to Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, California’s newest U.S. senator.

One of the most well-connected possible replacements, former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, withdrew from consideration Dec. 10 due to unspecified health reasons, saying that his treatment "doesn't lend itself to the intensity of a campaign that the community deserves."

Pérez, who ran unsuccessfully for state controller in 2014, had already received dozens of endorsements from members of the state Democratic Party when he dropped out, scrambling the race.

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With Pérez out, Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles), a former labor organizer who was elected to the Legislature in 2012, appears to have begun consolidating support from the state's Democratic establishment. Gomez announced the endorsements of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) and Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) in quick succession after Perez dropped out.

Gomez said in a statement announcing his run that he wants to “make sure that the Trump Republican Party does not have a free hand in Washington.”

At least 16 other candidates have said they would run for the seat. They include Wendy Carrillo, a local labor activist and former journalist who was brought to the United States illegally from El Salvador as a child; Kenneth Mejia, a Green Party candidate and self-proclaimed "Berniecrat" who previously ran against Becerra in the June election; Sara Hernandez, a former aide to L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar who most recently ran public affairs institute Coro Southern California; Arturo Carmona, a former deputy political director for Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign; and Yolie Flores, a former LAUSD board member.

Also running are Karl Siganporia, a Republican living in the Bay Area; Raymond Meza, a union organizer who helped coordinate the "Fight for $15" campaign to raise the minimum wage; Alejandra Campoverdi, a former White House aide who worked briefly for the Los Angeles Times; Steven Mac, an L.A. County prosecutor and former Army intelligence officer; Vanessa Aramayo, former head of an anti-poverty group; and Maria Cabildo, a former L.A. city planning commissioner.

William Rodriguez Morrison, a Republican and perennial candidate who most recently announced a run for L.A. mayor, and Tenaya Wallace, a Democrat and public relations consultant, have also said they are running but have not raised any money. Other recent candidates to join the fray are Sandra Mendoza, who ran for state Assembly in 2014, data analyst Alex Poulton and L.A. city planning commissioner Robert Lee Ahn, all Democrats.

In a statement announcing her run, Hernandez said she had raised more than $150,000 and that she knows "how to deal with bullies," vowing to stand up to a Trump administration.

They and others who are still mulling over potential bids represent a younger generation of local activists eager to run in a race where the rapidly changing neighborhoods of downtown Los Angeles, Eagle Rock and Highland Park will send a new face to Congress for the first time in more than 20 years.

The race comes at a time when California's statewide and congressional Democrats have vowed to be a thorn in the side of Donald Trump.

"This can't just be the usual game of musical chairs where one elected [official] moves to another position," Hernandez said in an interview. "It's time to turn this ship around, and that needs to be done by investing in a new generation of leadership that has the time and the energy and the fortitude to stand up to these challenges."

U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles), center, left his congressional seat after 24 years. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles), center, left his congressional seat after 24 years. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times) (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

The election of Donald Trump has also prompted several more seasoned politicians to skip the race: De León said he would not run, focusing instead on working with Becerra to "defend California's progress." L.A. City Councilmen Jose Huizar, who has been a vocal supporter of downtown development, and Gil Cedillo also turned down the opportunity, with Cedillo vowing to "stay and fight" for immigrant rights and other crucial issues in Los Angeles.

David Ryu, another councilman who last year cruised to victory with major support from the Korean community, also briefly considered vying for Becerra's seat, but decided against it.

But there's still time for the roster of candidates to expand: Brown can't set an election date until Becerra resigns and creates a vacancy, something he has said he won't do until after he's confirmed by the Legislature.

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The special election would probably be held no earlier than spring 2017, though the law gives the governor wide discretion in setting the schedule, particularly if it could be consolidated with already-scheduled citywide elections in March and May.

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Others have indicated they are still contemplating runs, including Jesse Leon, who currently works for Huizar. Another name that has been mentioned is LAUSD board member Monica Garcia.

The person who wins will represent a district that largely remained geographically intact after redistricting: The core neighborhoods of Eagle Rock, East Los Angeles and Highland Park have been represented by Becerra since he was first elected in 1993 to what was formerly the 30th, and then the 31st Congressional District.

Today, Latinos make up more than two-thirds of the district's population and more than half of registered voters. Asian Americans account for more than 15% of voters in the district, where the percentage of Republican registered to vote is in the single digits.

Many of the district's neighborhoods have seen a wave of gentrification in recent years, leading to higher rents andan uptick in shops selling specialty items such as gourmet coffee and artisan goods.

Becerra, who was reelected in November with 77% of the vote, has not indicated whether he'll endorse anyone.

For more on California politics, follow @cmaiduc.

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UPDATES:

Jan. 17, 5:33 p.m.: This article was updated with the entry of Mendoza, Ahn and Poulton.

Jan. 13, 12:22 p.m.: This article was updated with the entry of Morrison and Wallace.

Jan. 5, 2:44 p.m.: This article was updated to reflect Aramayo's and Cabildo's entrance into the race.

Dec. 22, 10 a.m.: This article was updated to reflect the entrance of Flores, Siganporia, Meza, Campoverdi and Mac into the race.

Dec. 13, 7:03 p.m.: This article was updated to reflect that Carmona has entered the race.

This article was originally published on Dec. 13 at 2:40 p.m.

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