Alex Padilla ended his campaign to remain California’s junior senator much the way he began — trying to build support for fellow Democrats in other races.
It was a show of how comfortable he felt as the overwhelming favorite against his Republican opponent, constitutional lawyer Mark Meuser, in a rematch like their 2018 race for California secretary of state. In an odd twist, voters cast ballots twice for senator in this election: once to fill the last two months of Kamala Harris’ term and the other for a new six-year term.
Eight days before Tuesday’s election, Padilla, who was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom when Harris became vice president, wrote supporters seeking contributions for seven lower-profile Democratic challengers in House races in California, some in contests where they are clear underdogs.
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Five days later, Padilla asked supporters to split donations with a group representing Democrats running to become the top election officials in their states. Those contests, he wrote, “tend to go under the radar compared to races for the House and Senate, but the truth is that these races are some of the most important in the entire country.”
Finances are one measure of the lopsided contest. Padilla raised $11.8 million as of Oct. 19, and had $7.6 million left. Meuser raised $949,000 and had $136,000 remaining.
On the June primary ballot, Padilla captured 54.1% of the vote among 23 contestants. Meuser finished second with 14.9%.
Padilla, 49, got his start in politics how many Latinos of his generation did: revulsion over Proposition 187, a 1994 ballot measure to deny education, health care and other non-emergency services to immigrants in the country illegally. Voters approved the measure by a wide margin but a judge invalidated it.
Padilla’s parents emigrated to Los Angeles from Mexico in the 1960s and raised three children in the Pacoima area. They worked 40 years: his father as a short-order cook and his mother as a housecleaner.
Padilla’s graduation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology fulfilled his parents’ dreams, but he said he came home to television ads for Proposition 187 “basically saying the state of California is going downhill and it’s the fault of people like your parents; it’s because of families like yours.”
“I was insulted. I was offended. I was enraged,” Padilla said in a September interview. “I had no choice but to get involved to make a difference.”
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Padilla was 26 when he joined the Los Angeles City Council and he became its president two years later, having set aside his engineering career. He served two terms in the state Senate and was then twice elected secretary of state. He resigned during his second term to become California’s first Latino U.S. senator.
Padilla ties much of his Senate work and priorities to earlier experiences — how his engineering background means infrastructure will always be “a big deal;” how immigration comes up every chance he gets in discussions with other senators.
Meuser, a lawyer at the firm of top Republican political operative Harmeet Dhillon, said he had no plans for a rematch with Padilla until pandemic health restrictions that he found overbearing were put in place. His campaign site says he was involved in 22 lawsuits against Newsom for “his unconstitutional usurpation of power.”
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Meuser, 48, said in September that he was counting on low turnout and support from independents and Latinos who are disaffected with President Joe Biden.