SAN FRANCISCO — The U.S. Senate race that’s part of the California primary election next week features appointed incumbent Alex Padilla facing off with a Trump supporter and a billionaire.
California voters will actually be casting their ballots for senator twice: the first time for the remaining two years of the current partial, unexpired term created when Kamala Harris left office to become the Vice President. The second is for a full term, which runs six years.
The man currently holding the job is Sen. Alex Padilla. In 2021, Governor Newsom appointed him to the Senate, and captured the moment in an emotional video call.
As California’s first Latino Senator, he made history on the national stage during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Kentanji Brown Jackson, by speaking Spanish.
“I’m blessed to be bilingual. By having some of the conversation in this confirmation hearing in Spanish serves the purpose of getting more people included in the process,” he said.
In the year and a half since, Padilla has been learning on the job, building alliances in a U.S. Senate that is very white.
When asked how the son of Mexican immigrants could fit in there, Padilla replied, “I’m not there to ask for permission to engage in conversation. I’m there to make a difference and I’m not shy about utilizing my experience and the relationships I’ve built with leaders at the state and local level throughout California to weigh in on the most significant of issues.
As for addressing gridlock on Capitol Hill, Padilla said he reached out to Texas Senator John Cornyn when a large storm knocked out power to the entire state, and talked about how heavy winds in California have knocked down power lines and caused massive fires.
Cornyn and Padilla ended up working together.
“We developed a bill known as the Power On Act. Which would utilize federal funding to work with utilities, not just to improve the reliability of the grid, but the resiliency because of the realities of climate change,” explained Padilla. “That’s one example that bipartisanship is still possible.
The lead Republican challenger is Mark Meuser, a constitutional attorney and triathlete. He opposes Padilla on virtually every major issue.
“It is the unforgivable sin that any politician can commit, not controlling inflation,” said Meuser.
He stands counter to Padilla and a majority of Californians on abortion.
“Roe v. Wade was a bad constitutional decision, because it took power away from the state and turned it over to the federal government,” Meuser said.
On the subject of gun control, when asked if he supports universal background checks, he replied, “I believe the Second Amendment says “shall not infringe.” Congress shall not infringe.”
When asked if climate change is real, Meuser answered, “I ask people to define what climate change is. I can’t get a straight definition on what climate change is.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, Meuser also questions the results of the 2020 election.
“There are so many irregularities about this election that I do not feel any American who looks at it can have confidence that they know what the actual results are,” he said.
One thing Meuser wouldn’t comment on publicly was his vaccination status.
“That is something that is between me and my doctor and nobody else’s business,” he said.
Donna Crane, a political science professor at San Jose State, says each of Meuser’s positions is a fatal blow in California, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1.
“With no disrespect, he’s sort of what we would call a classic nuisance candidate. Very likely running for some other purpose. Very little chance of winning,” said Crane. “I just don’t see a pathway forward for him. It doesn’t match California voters at all.”
The third candidate KPIX spoke with is Dan O’Dowd, a billionaire software company founder who has spent millions blanketing the airwaves bashing Tesla.
When asked about the focus on Tesla software in his campaign ads, O’Dowd explained, “Well that’s the beginning, that’s part of the message. The whole message is much bigger.”
O’Dowd is running as a single issue candidate, essentially using Tesla is a way to segue into the broader issue of cyber security.
He says our infrastructure, power grids, hospitals and – as highlighted in his campaign ads – self-driving cars, are all at risk of cyber attack.
“i view this as the biggest problem of our time, even bigger than nuclear weapons,” said O’Dowd. “My slogan is ‘Making computers safer for humanity.’ We gotta find those computers, we gotta disconnect them, we gotta reprogram them so that they can’t be hacked. So they won’t fail and leave us defenseless.”
When asked about other issues like homelessness, the environment and the drought, O’Dowd replied, “Well, when they bring down the power grid, everyone will be homeless. You won’t be able to go anywhere. I just think it’s a more important issue.”
Professor Joe Tuman at San Francisco State said for O’Dowd to be taken seriously, he’ll have to talk about more than just self-driving cars.
“I want to be polite about this because I think he’s a good person and his heart’s in the right place. But it’s demonstrating a bit of naïveté about how politics work,” said Tuman. “What he’s telling us is that he’s not comfortable discussing these other things. He’s just comfortable with what he knows. If you’re going to serve in the Senate, you have to know a hell of a lot more than that.”
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