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Line to Succeed Becerra in California Could Be Long

While Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) ponders whether to accept President-elect Barack Obama’s offer to serve as U.S. trade representative, several current and former officeholders are already being mentioned as possible candidates to replace him in the Los Angeles-based 31st district. If Becerra were to leave, a special election would be held sometime in early or mid-2009 — meaning members of the state Legislature would not have to give up their seats to compete. Voter turnout would be low, but the number of Democratic candidates in the open primary would almost certainly be very high. “These Congressional seats don’t open up very often,” said a California political insider. “It’s a free for all.” One Sacramento-based Democratic consultant and lobbyist said some ambitious legislators are already openly talking about the race. “It’s not like the Congressman had a heart attack and everybody’s in mourning,” the consultant said. Among the potential Democratic contenders, in alphabetical order: state Sen. Gil Cedillo, state Assemblyman Kevin DeLeon, former state Sen. Martha Escutia, Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti, former state Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, state Assemblyman John Pérez, and state Sen. Gloria Romero. On paper, Nuñez would be one of the leading contenders. But he just inked a deal to work with Mercury Public Affairs, a prominent Republican-leaning firm that has offices on both coasts. More significantly, his 19-year-old son was arrested this week in connection with the stabbing death of a college student in San Diego. Although he was just sworn in to the Assembly days ago, Perez could be formidable. He is tight with organized labor and is a cousin to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Cedillo is a well-known and well-respected local official who also has union ties, having run the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union in the 1990s. Romero, who is term limited in 2010, is preparing a statewide run to be California superintendent of public instruction. DeLeon is seen as a leading contender to become Assembly Speaker the next time there is a vacancy. Garcetti is the son of former Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti, whose office prosecuted O.J. Simpson when he was on trial for the murder of his ex-wife. The 31st district, which takes in neighborhoods west of downtown Los Angeles and has Dodger Stadium at its approximate geographic center, is about 70 percent Hispanic, so a Latino candidate would presumably be favored to win. Under California law regarding special elections, all the candidates, regardless of party, run together on a single primary ballot. If no candidate surpasses 50 percent of the vote, the leading vote-getter from each party proceeds to a special general election. The Democratic nominee would be overwhelmingly favored in such a contest.

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