LOS ANGELES (AP) — The two Democrats seeking California’s U.S. Senate seat rolled out dueling endorsements Thursday that highlighted political dynamics that are shaping the race.
Front-runner Kamala Harris announced the support of several prominent Hispanic politicians, including state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, a blow to rival Loretta Sanchez’s effort to lock up Latino support.
Sanchez, the daughter of Mexican immigrants who could become one of the first Latinas in the Senate, has been making overt appeals for votes from fellow Hispanics.
Sanchez, meanwhile, was endorsed by former Republican congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, underscoring her efforts to draw support from across party lines in a race with no Republican on the ballot.
The low-key contest to replace outgoing Sen. Barbara Boxer has been largely overshadowed by this year’s presidential campaign. Recent polls give Harris, the state attorney general, a comfortable double-digit edge over Sanchez, a 10-term House member from Orange County who has struggled with fundraising.
Harris and Sanchez landed in a November runoff after topping a large field of contenders in the June primary. Under California election rules, only two candidates, the top vote-getters, advance to the general election.
The matchup marks the first time since voters started electing senators a century ago that Republicans will be absent from California’s general election ballot, reaffirming the GOP’s diminished stature in the nation’s most populous state.
Harris has firmly established herself as the favorite of the Democratic establishment, with endorsements from President Barack Obama and Gov. Jerry Brown.
Trailing in money and polling, Sanchez’s chances appear to rest on her ability to stitch together an unusual coalition of Hispanics, Republicans and moderate Democrats and independents.
Harris has been working to build up her support with Latinos. She was also endorsed Thursday by former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens.
In a statement, de Leon called Harris “a leader for all Californians” who has fought to protect the rights of immigrants and their families, regardless of their legal status.
Sanchez has argued that her experience on Capitol Hill and involvement in national security issues make her the better candidate.
McKeon, the former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement that he’d worked with Sanchez for years and “have seen firsthand her ability to put partisanship aside and work with Democrats and Republicans.”
“Her military knowledge and committee experience is needed in the Senate,” McKeon said.
Sanchez faces a challenge luring GOP voters — one recent survey found as many as half of Republicans didn’t intend to vote in the Senate race.