State Sen. Kevin Murray, one of 18 candidates vying in the April 10 special election in the 32nd Congressional District, won the support of Rep. Maxine Waters on Monday, an endorsement that is expected to give his campaign added momentum and may catapult him to the top of the race.
With the backing of the influential congresswoman, Murray now has the support of some of the most powerful California Democrats in Congress, including Reps. Howard L. Berman and Henry A. Waxman. Murray, 41, has also been endorsed by Bettye Dixon, the widow of Rep. Julian Dixon, whose seat the candidates are seeking to fill.
Former state Sen. Diane Watson, 67, and City Councilman Nate Holden, 71, the other front-runners in the race, also were seeking the support of Waters, who routinely refrains from making endorsements until the later stages of campaigns.
Waters said she decided to back Murray because he offered "the greatest possibility for long-term service in the Congress."
"The congressman for this district must be smart, energetic and prepared to work over a long period of time in developing public policy for all the people of the communities in the district," she said. "Kevin, more than any other candidate, embodies all of the qualities that are necessary to get the job done."
Waters' endorsement echoed sentiments that others have expressed about the need for someone relatively young to replace Dixon, who spent two decades in Congress advancing through the seniority system.
"This is clearly significant," Murray said. "Maxine Waters is one of the most well-respected people in political life and the voters value her opinion."
Watson, who received word of Waters' decision Sunday, said she was disappointed by the news but not surprised.
"I had a feeling that was the way she was going to go," Watson said, "but I didn't think she would go ahead with an endorsement without first touching base with me."
Not to be outdone, Watson, a former ambassador to Micronesia under President Bill Clinton, held a news conference Monday to announce that she had the support of Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove), who defeated Republican firebrand Robert K. Dornan in 1996 and helped turn around the fortunes of struggling Orange County Democrats.
"Diane Watson is the kind of person who gets things done," Sanchez said. "She has a history of working for people and she will be a great representative."
In addition to Sanchez, Watson is being backed by Democratic Reps. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Carson) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Watson also received the backing of EMILY's List, a group that raises money for female Democrats who support abortion rights. She is also supported by Los Angeles Ecumenical Congress, an organization representing churches with some of the largest African American congregations in Los Angeles.