Could a Californian be vice president?

By Jill Cowan

Joe Biden is expected to finally announce his running mate — well, if not this week, then soon.

And while one woman who represents California in Congress has shot to the top of the list, it may not be the one you thought.

Rep. Karen Bass, a respected consensus-builder who made history as the first Black woman in the country to serve as the speaker of a state legislature, has become a leading contender amid what my colleagues reported has been intense jockeying.

Bass’ credentials as an advocate for social justice and racial equity run deep: Her political career is rooted in her work as a community organizer in South Los Angeles during the 1990s, when the crack cocaine epidemic was ravaging the community and when rage against racist policing bubbled over in the Rodney King uprisings.

Bass also explicitly worked to bring together Black and Latino community members, as Jose A. Del Real reported for The Washington Post.

Today, she’s a five-term congresswoman and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus who is close with Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

But Sen. Kamala Harris is by no means out of the picture. You may recall she also ran for president, and she still has many of the things going for her that made her a major candidate for the Oval Office: a barrier-breaking political career in which she has won multiple statewide races; sharp speaking skills, which she said she’d use to “prosecute the case” against President Donald Trump; and name recognition both within and outside California.

Still, some observers have said Harris might be too focused on her own presidential aspirations to make for a second-in-command.

Politico reported that Sen. Chris Dodd, a member of Biden’s search committee, told a donor that Harris “had no remorse” for her comments in a dramatic exchange with Biden over busing during one of the Democratic primary debates. Over the weekend, though, Politico also reported that the senator’s allies talked with Biden’s vetting team in an effort to smooth things over.

“The Bidens are looking for somebody as loyal to them as they were to Barack and Michelle Obama,” Christine Pelosi, the daughter of the speaker, told The New York Times recently.

So, how does this all affect California?

Bass and Harris are not the only competitors, of course; the Biden campaign is orchestrating an unusually public “veepstakes,” in which all the contenders are established public servants who would represent subtly different visions of the Democratic Party, said Raphael Sonenshein, the executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles.

And Biden’s announcement during the primaries that he’d choose a woman for the job has helped head off less substantive discussion about a woman’s electability and instead focused it on which woman would be most likely to help Biden beat the president. That, Sonenshein told me, is the biggest priority for many California Democrats.

Still, he said, it’s notable — nay, “exciting” — to have two Californians at the top of the list.

“What’s interesting is, historically, California has not been a site for Democrats to get on the national ticket,” he said.

Despite Democrats’ current dominance within the nation’s most populous state, when it comes to national elections, California has been a more powerful springboard for Republican politicians — think Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon.

Now, Sonenshein said, no matter how the veepstakes shakes out, “a number of California politicians are going to get called to Washington — it’s probably long overdue.”

Harris and Bass, he said, represent parts of the Democratic base that haven’t gotten the attention they deserve: women in general, Black women in particular — and Californians.

“You could make a case for both of them,” he said. “Bass has a reputation as a first-class legislator, and Harris is a strong litigator.”

Sonenshein said he got out of the predictions business after 2016 (seems wise), but one thing is certain: If either Californian is tapped to join a Biden administration, it’ll set off a reshuffling of Democratic power in the Golden State.

If Harris leaves her Senate post, he said, “You’re going to see a game of musical chairs like you’ve never seen before.”

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