The race to replace Congresswoman Hilda Solis may turn out to be a competition between veteran politicians representing the district's two largest ethnic groups: Latinos and Asians.
On Monday, Judy Chu, chairwoman of the state Board of Equalization, announced her intention to run for the seat, which encompasses East Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley and would be vacant if Solis (D-El Monte) is confirmed as President-elect Barack Obama's secretary of labor.
State Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) said publicly last week that she was interested in pursuing the seat.
Speculation over who would run has been swirling in political circles since Obama's choice of Solis was made public late last week.
Both Chu and Romero were suggested, as were Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Montebello) and Assemblyman Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), neither of whom have announced their intentions. But the law doesn't require a candidate to live in the district, so the field could be open to many other candidates for the sought-after seat in the House of Representatives, which is not subject to term limits. Solis' successor must be chosen in a special election.
Chu said she's confident in her bid.
"I believe that I will have major support for this seat," she said, but would not yet name her backers.
In an interview with The Times on Monday evening, Chu said she made the decision to run Sunday after days of urging from supporters.
"I've decided to heed those calls," she said. "I know this district very, very well and I believe the people of this district know me and know I'm very devoted to the San Gabriel Valley."
Chu began her political career as a board member for the Garvey School District in 1985. She has served in the state Assembly and as a council member and three-time mayor of Monterey Park.
Both she and Romero are trained psychologists who have taught at the college level, according to their biographies.
Romero could not be reached Monday afternoon, but said publicly last week that she would pursue the seat. A staunch labor supporter, Romero was elected to her state Senate seat in 2001, replacing Solis. She had previously served in the Assembly and said she represented the district at the state level for 10 years.
She would have an important leg up on Chu, according to political consultants.
"Most people believe a Latino would be favored," said Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the California Target Book, a nonpartisan publication that analyzes and handicaps legislative races.
He said about 48% of the district's voters are Latino. Asians are the second-largest group, making up 13% of the vote.
But if several Latino candidates split the Latino vote, he said, a strong Asian candidate could put together Asian and white voters and take a majority.
Perhaps an even larger factor, said Democratic political strategist Steve Maviglio, is who the Los Angeles Federation of Labor backs, and how strongly.
"They have the most horses in the county. They have the most money. If they put all their firepower behind one candidate, it's pretty much over," he said.
That's partly because most special elections have turnouts below 20%, which he said favor grass-roots, get-out-the vote campaigns that are labor's strength.
If the primary were part of a larger election -- it's been suggested that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger may call a special election this summer to resolve the state's budget problems -- that would increase the turnout.
Mary Gutierrez, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said both Chu and Solis have good reputations in the labor community. But it's too early to know what the slate is going to look like.
"I think it took a lot of people by surprise, so I don't think they had a lot of time to think: Do I want to run for that?" Gutierrez said of Solis' appointment.
"I think people are still testing the field right now."