California Assemblywoman Laura Richardson (D) topped state Sen. Jenny Oropeza and 15 other competitors Tuesday in the special election to replace the late Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D) in California’s 37th district.
Richardson, who is black, garnered 37.8 percent of the vote, compared to Oropeza, a Latina, who finished with 31.3 percent. Valerie McDonald, the daughter of Millender-McDonald, came in third with 9.4 percent.
Although Richardson failed to exceed 50 percent of the vote and is now headed to an Aug. 21 runoff, the overwhelmingly Democratic makeup of the Long Beach-based district means she has effectively won the contest to succeed Millender-McDonald.
“I just thank God,” Richardson told the Long Beach Press-Telegram. “It’s not just about the number of years you’ve served, it’s about what’s in your heart.”
Richardson was just elected to her first term in the California Legislature in November. Oropeza was elected to her first state Senate term in November after serving six years in the state Assembly.
Although Oropeza and Richardson attempted to soft-pedal the role that ethnic rivalries played in the race, the contest was seen in some quarters as a proxy fight between the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Millender-McDonald was black, and the CBC had an interest in maintaining its numbers. Richardson was endorsed by Rep. Maxine Waters (D), who helped her raise money from other black Members. Oropeza, meanwhile, received contributions from several Latino Members.
Ultimately, the campaign was characterized by disagreements over internal polling and accusations by Richardson that Oropeza had engaged in illegal campaign activities. The results suggest that the key labor endorsements secured by Richardson overpowered the backing Oropeza received from the California Democratic Party and the region’s major newspapers.
“I wish her all the success in the world,” Oropeza told the Press-Telegram. “I encouraged everyone here to get behind her 100 percent as the Congressperson. We share core Democratic values.”
Republican John Kanaley, a police officer who garnered 7.6 percent of the vote, and two minor-party candidates also qualified for the runoff.