SAN DIEGO (AP) — Alex Padilla was elected Tuesday to his first full term as U.S. senator for California, solidifying his position as one of the country’s top elected Latinos and a leading Democratic voice in Congress for more expansive immigration laws.
In a show of how comfortable he felt as a strong favorite, Padilla — who was appointed senator by California Gov. Gavin Newsom when Kamala Harris became vice president — worked hard in the run-up to the election for fellow Democrats in tight races instead of focusing on his Republican opponent, constitutional lawyer Mark Meuser. Padilla even traveled to Arizona in the campaign’s final weeks for embattled Senate incumbent Mark Kelly.
With 4.3 million votes counted, Padilla had 63% and Meuser had 37%.
Padilla also won a special election to fill the last two months of the current term. In an odd twist, voters cast ballots twice: once to fill the remainder of Harris’ term and the other for a new six-year term.
Padilla thanked supporters at a Los Angeles gathering shortly after polls closed and issued a statement vowing to protect Social Security and Medicare, fight climate change, support immigration reform and abortion rights and defend against threats to democracy.
“We have a hell of a fight ahead of us and I’m heading back to the Senate ready to help lead that fight,” he said.
Padilla, a son of Mexican immigrants who graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was 26 when he joined the Los Angeles City Council. He became its president two years later, having set aside his engineering career.
Padilla 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. He chairs a Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, citizenship and border safety.
“The work is still unfinished from an immigration reform standpoint — long, long overdue for the nation,” Padilla said in a September interview. “No state has more at stake in it than California.”
Other issues Padilla has worked on include power grid reliability and voting rights. He also led a $25 billion effort to convert gas- and diesel-powered school buses to electric vehicles.
Padilla and Meuser also faced off in 2018 for California secretary of state.
Finances were one measure of the lopsided Senate 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%.
Meuser, a 48-year-old 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.”