Robert Garcia remembers watching on television as then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered the county to issue same-sex marriage licenses in 2004. A young gay man in his 20s at the time, Garcia called it a "light switch" that ignited his passion for public service.
Now, Garcia, 43, mayor of Long Beach, California, is one of four people Newsom, now the governor, is weighing to serve in the Senate when Vice President-elect Kamala Harris vacates her seat in January, NBC News reports.
“It inspired me to step forward, to support groups that are being marginalized,” said Garcia, who is considered the dark horse contender for the nomination.
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The front-runner is California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. Also being considered are Reps. Barbara Lee and Karen Bass, both Black women serving in the U.S. House.
Padilla is seen by many Democrats in the state as a shoe-in because of his decadeslong personal relationship with Newsom. The state’s other senator, Dianne Feinstein, has publicly endorsed Padilla. If selected, Garcia or Padilla would be California’s first Latino senator in a state where Hispanics are nearly half the population.
In a recent poll by the University of Southern California Schwarzenegger Institute, 76 percent of respondents said they are looking for a “fresh and new voice” to replace Harris and serve alongside Feinstein, the oldest sitting senator. When asked about each candidate individually, 57 percent of respondents said they would support Garcia, 53 percent said the same of Bass and Padilla and 51 percent said as much about Lee.
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