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CHC Aims at California Seat

Eyeing a seat long held by a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has inserted itself into the competition to replace the late Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D) in California’s 37th district.

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) confirmed Monday that the CHC’s Building Our Leadership Diversity political action committee endorsed state Sen. Jenny Oropeza, one of three leading Democrats in the special election scheduled for June 26.

“It’s a priority to have a good candidate take office and to support good candidates to Congress,” said Becerra, BOLDPAC’s chairman.

The contest’s other leading candidates are state Assemblywoman Laura Richardson (D) and Valerie McDonald (D), the daughter of Millender-McDonald, both of whom are black.

Advisers to Richardson said Monday she is expected to receive the endorsements of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor as well as the national AFL-CIO.

While the district’s Hispanic population has increased in recent years — voter registration statistics show the 37th seat is 21.5 percent Latino and at least 25 percent black — Becerra demurred when asked whether winning the seat is a CHC priority.

“We try to take into account the individual, the qualifications, the race itself,” Becerra said. The committee endorsed Oropeza in a unanimous vote based on her candidate application, he added.

Although the Congressional Black Caucus had not offered an endorsement of any candidates in the race as of Monday — a little more than a month before the primary — Rep. Diane Watson (D-Calif.), who has endorsed McDonald, asserted last week many of her colleagues would offer their support as well.

“We in the black caucus understand what kind of energy and dedication and commitment is needed in that seat,” Watson said. Watson, who represents the nearby 33rd district, asserted a handful of other members already have contributed to McDonald’s campaign, including CBC Chairwoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Mich.). However, those offices could not confirm that information Monday.

“She has her mother’s agenda. She has her work ethic,” Watson said, later adding that Millender-McDonald, who represented the district for 11 years and died April 22 after battling cancer, “charged her daughter to continue.”

But McDonald faces a potentially difficult race. The California state Democratic Party formally endorsed Oropeza in recent days. The state lawmaker took 71 percent of the delegate vote, the Long Beach Press-Telegram reported, followed by Richardson. According to the newspaper, McDonald won only two votes, one of which she cast herself.

Prior to the weekend vote, Watson acknowledged the competition, but remained optimistic. “I feel good about her chances,” she said. “It’s going to be a challenge. She won’t walk into it, but she will win.”

Operatives for Oropeza and Richardson downplayed the role of ethnicity in the campaign, saying the contest would boil down to endorsements and field operations.

They agreed on little else, with Oropeza’s lead consultant Parke Skelton and Richardson’s adviser John Shallman both arguing that their candidate was best equipped to pull votes in the Southern California district’s melting pot of cultures and ethnicities.

Skelton said the state Democratic Party’s vote to endorse Oropeza was key.

With the major candidates agreeing on key policy matters and the prohibitive cost of running television ads in the Los Angeles media market that serves the district, the short campaign is likely to revolve around direct-mail ads and ground troops.

Skelton said the state party’s endorsement of Oropeza means she will have the party activists on her side and therefore have access to a vast army to make phone calls and knock on doors on behalf of her candidacy. Skelton also predicted that in the likely low-turnout election, the state Democratic Party’s endorsement would have a greater influence on voters’ decisions than it might in a normal contest.

“Every time I poll [political] party as an endorsement, it polls better than any other endorsement,” Skelton said.

Shallman countered that organized labor’s backing of Richardson would carry greater weight with the district’s Democrats and result in more money and more boots-on-the-ground flowing to her campaign.

Additionally, Shallman highlighted the endorsements Richardson received from Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and several local elected officials serving in the 37th district communities of Long Beach, Carson and Compton, which rank first, second and third, respectively, in terms of population.

Shallman called Waters’ backing particularly beneficial.

“I don’t know that she’s endorsed a candidate that’s lost in this area — at least in recent memory,” he said. “She carries a huge bloc of votes.”

If the winner of the June 26 special open primary does not garner more than 50 percent of the vote, the top vote-getter from each political party will proceed to an Aug. 21 runoff.

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