Xavier Becerra, California is Yours

Is the Sleeping Giant Latino Vote Ready to Get Off Its Butt?

The 2026 gubernatorial campaign is quickly shaping up with candidates like Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, State Senate leader Toni Atkins and others already running. So when will the present-day Last Great Latino Hope formally announce that he wants to be governor?


Xavier Becerra didn’t want to answer a question, not because he didn’t have an answer, but because he wasn’t yet ready to talk publicly about what has been on his mind for a while. A good while, in fact.
Running for governor of California in 2026.
The speculation has been out there. Of course, it has, as it inevitably is for any California politician worth his salt who has held political office of any consequence in the state, and especially if he has steered clear of trouble.
And the speculation multiplies exponentially for any Latino politician. That kind of talk has been around since the awakening of the Latino vote more than six decades ago.
In late 1979, the late Ted Kennedy fund-raising in Pasadena when he thought he still had a shot at becoming president, pointed to one particular Latino state senator and predicted that man would be the first Latino governor of California in modern times.
That Latino became governor about as much as Teddy became president.
A generation later, former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa postured as if destiny had called upon him to become governor and even ran for the job. He is now gorgeously coiffed and retired from politics somewhere in the Hollywood Hills.
And now comes Xavier Becerra, secretary of Health and Human Services in the Biden administration. His people or someone close to them has probably orchestrated behind the scenes the talk about him running for governor. Will he? Won’t he? And if he’s going to run, when does he step down from the president’s cabinet?
Politico reported in late April that Becerra’s plans “to leave the Biden administration and run for California governor are more advanced than previously known — with hiring discussions and spending further developed than he’s letting on.”
No one in the California political landscape was surprised. Governor Gavin Newsom is termed out in 2027.The field is open, and no one is a clear front runner.
Becerra has the highest profile he has ever had in his political career. He’s a cabinet member with a long history in public service — the state legislature, a distinguished 26-year stint in Congress, and then California Attorney General.
More importantly, his career has been blemish-free of any womanizing or bribery scandal that has sidelined or retired other ambitious Latino politicians and sent others to prison. Xavier Becerra is the role model you would want for your son or daughter to emulate.
And so here he was in Sacramento last weekend, at a two-day CalMatters Ideas Festival exploring big ideas for the future of the state, in a conference at the Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel — a 10-minute walk from the governor’s office — when a local television political reporter tried to get confirm he is considering run for California governor.
There appeared to be a momentary twinkle you could see in Becerra’s eyes behind his glasses and a trace of a smile on his face. But he wasn’t biting just yet.
“It’s a nice thing to get to contemplate,” he said.
But he won’t officially comment. Not yet.
The wheels are spinning, though, even as Gov. Newsom’s days are counting down.
But there are strong signs. Becerra has spent more than $130,000 over the last year for “campaign consultants.” He also has more than $1.5 million in a state committee from his time as attorney general, and his listing in campaign finance reports $10,000-a-month in payments as for account oversight.
The payments are made to the Podesta Group, the Washington, D.C., lobbying and public affairs firm founded by John Podesta, a senior adviser to President Biden for clean energy, and his brother Tony Podesta. John Podesta also held top jobs in the Obama and Clinton White Houses, while his brother Tony has been one of Washington’s most powerful lobbyists and fundraisers.
But Becerra has been careful to steer clear of any political conflict.
“I am secretary of HHS and, by law, I have to be secretary of HHS and nothing else,” he said at a recent event in San Francisco. “So I’m gonna do my job as best I can.”
Still, the clock is ticking. The primary election is in June 2026 — but the race to be California’s next governor is already growing crowded with major contenders.
State Senate leader Toni Atkins has been the most recent high-ranking Democrat to declare their candidacy, holding a kickoff rally packed with union members in her hometown of San Diego.
Three other prominent hopefuls are Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, and former Controller Betty Yee who said she will run for governor, though she has yet to formally launch her campaign.
Attorney General Rob Bonta, who last year said that he is “seriously considering” seeking the governorship, is still expected to make a bid.
Already the gubernatorial race is far more shaped up than it was at the same point in the 2018 election when Newsom, the lieutenant governor, had announced his candidacy in February 2015, just three months after then-Gov. Jerry Brown won a second term. Other candidates waited almost another two years before launching their campaigns.
“Look what happened to them,” said Andrew Acosta, a Democratic political consultant not affiliated with any of the campaigns so far. “By the time people got in the race, Newsom’s team had done a good job of framing that the race was already over. And it kind of was.”
So what’s holding up Mera jumping into the race?
In this year’s senate race to replace the late Dianne Feinstein, the consensus among most analysts what is that whoever won over Latino voters was going to win the March primary and frontrunner Adam Schiff apparently did just that over his two primary Democratic challengers.
And the same, probably can be said about the 2026 primary, seemingly would give Becerra the inside track.
Even with a horrendous history of so often failing to turn out in significant numbers, the Latino vote cannot be ignored. There are 7.9 million Latinos in California eligible to vote, more than any other state in the country — and 73 % of eligible Latino voters were registered to vote in 2020 in California.
Nevertheless, Latinos are underrepresented among likely voters in California. Latinos account for 36% of California’s adult population but make up just 25% of the state’s likely voters.
In politics, those numbers are purely academic, and nobody knows that better than Xavier Becerra who has witnessed the rise and fall of political careers and the exasperation of other Latino politicians unable to find the right combination that would unlock Latino political power at the polls.
If he held those answers, his political life might be different. It is much like the discussion on the power dynamics of Southern California versus Northern California that he was asked to discuss at another conference.
“Who knows? It’s gonna be interesting,” he said. “By the way, I’ve lived most of my life in L.A. I was born and raised in Sacramento. So, I like the Giants and I like the Dodgers. And most people say that’s not possible.”
A sports analogy. Great. Here’s one from the great hockey scorer Wayne Gretzky, Xavier:
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

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