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LOS ANGELES — California Gov. Gavin Newsom may soon earn the rare distinction of having selected his state’s two senators, but he is not happy with the prospect, according to those close to him.

As Senator Dianne Feinstein, 89, charts an uncertain path in Washington after returning to work following a health issue, the fight over whether she should stay and the fate of the Senate seat she still holds has turned into an ugly proxy war in California among three high-profile Democrats vying to replace her, with Newsom caught in the middle.

Feinstein has already announced that he intends to retire at the end of his term next year, setting up a crowded primary fight. But if he were to vacate the seat before then, Newsom would be left to name someone to finish the term, a selection that would be seen as tipping the scales in the primary.

Two years ago, when he chose Sen. Alex Padilla to fill an empty seat, Newsom promised on MSNBC to select a black woman for any future opening, which was widely understood as a nod to Rep. Barbara Lee.

That, however, was before Lee jumped into the Senate race, before powerful Democrats like former Speaker Nancy Pelosi bet on one of his rivals, Rep. Adam Schiff, and before some of Mr. Newsom will work for the third candidate in the race, Rep. Katie Porter.

Newsom always says he hates these [appointments]said a California Democratic strategist who was granted anonymity to speak candidly. “He talks about how you temporarily make one person happy and make a million people angry. I didn’t really believe him in the others, but I do believe him in this one.»

«Any decision pisses off someone important,» added the strategist. «There are more downsides than upsides to just about anything you do.»

Pressed for the Senate seat wherever he goes, Newsom is sure to be inundated with opinions when he attends the California Democratic Party convention in Los Angeles this weekend, which will bring together thousands of delegates, activists and powerhouses. all the huge state. .

“Emails, calls, texts, people stopping me. I’m not kidding,» Newsom said in a local television interview this month of lobbying efforts for the Senate seat, which, to be clear, remains filled. “This is one of the biggest issues here and it was one of the biggest issues when I was in Alabama, even in Jackson, Mississippi.”

Three years after he appointed Padilla, when Vice President Kamala Harris vacated the post to enter the White House, he understands why people are wary that he will do it again.

«For those who say, enough of Newsom making those elections,» Newsom added, «I get it, I’m with you!»

Newsom’s decision to select Padilla was far less controversial, but nonetheless frustrated powerful black democrats – key allies that the ambitious Democrat does not want to alienate as he contemplates a possible future presidential campaign.

The California Democratic Party’s Black Caucus was «incredibly hurt and disappointed by the governor’s decision» to replace the only black woman in the Senate with a Latino man, the group’s president, Taisha Brown, said at the time. «With a stroke of the pen, her actions have denied black female representation in the United States Senate.»

This time, the stakes are even higher.

Many black Democrats are doing everything they can to pressure Newsom to make good on his promise to nominate a black woman, by which they usually mean Lee.

But other California Democrats, especially allies of Schiff or Porter, insist otherwise just as vehemently.

They argue that Newsom would be unfairly putting his thumb on the primary ladder by elevating Lee, giving the lesser-known Oakland lawmaker a critical boost in statewide name recognition and incumbency power.

Meanwhile, Newsom’s kitchen cabinet of outside political advisers is split among the three candidates, making it difficult for him to fully trust their advice. One former spokesperson works for Porter, another runs a pro-Lee super PAC, and the powerful firm run by Newsom’s consultants is running a pro-Schiff super PAC.

Many party members now wonder if Newsom regrets making his promise before the race began, but Rusty Hicks, chairman of the California Democratic Party, said: «I have no doubt the governor will follow through on his commitments.»

Some have raised other ideas to try to diffuse the situation. How about a different black woman? Or a caretaker, like former Sen. Barbara Boxer?

“I saw Barbara recently and I can’t imagine her agreeing to that. She loves the semi-retired life of hers in Palm Springs! She and Stewart were happy and prosperous,» said Rose Kapolczynski, Boxer’s former campaign manager.

And Newsom has seen firsthand that caregivers can’t necessarily be counted on to stay in their assigned role.

When Newsom was elected lieutenant governor in 2010, he cleared the way for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to replace him as mayor with a caretaker, Ed Lee, who had promised not to run in the next elections. The following year, Lee reneged on that promise, running for and winning a full term as the city’s mayor.

Of course, there are plenty of other qualified black women in California, but Lee’s allies are trying to impose solidarity on her behalf.

“It will be very difficult to find a black woman to fill that position as an appointee when they know the only reason they are appointing her is simply to prevent another black woman from holding that position long term,” said Amar Shergill, the president of the California Progressive Caucus and vocal supporter of Lee. «So there’s pressure to make sure that never happens.»

Meanwhile, behind-the-scenes snipers have gotten nastier.

Lee supporters accuse Schiff and his so-called «establishment» allies like Pelosi of manipulating the ailing Feinstein into staying in office in order to block Lee, which they have denied. Pelosi says that he just wants to let Feinstein make his own decision, since he sees sexism in the drive to force her to retire. Feinstein’s allies have pointed to men in similar health conditions who were not expelled from the Senate.

Feinstein’s standing among Californians continues to deteriorate as questions about his physical and cognitive health mount.

Two-thirds of registered voters agree that she is «no longer fit to continue to serve in the United States Senate,» according to a new poll from the Institute for Government Studies at the University of California Berkeley. Only 27% said he should stay in office.

But voters were split on whether they wanted Newsom to make an appointment to replace her and whether she should somehow be forced out of office.

“The poll clearly shows that while support for Senator Feinstein has declined considerably since 2018, there is no clear consensus on how the process should play out,” said poll co-director G. Cristina Mora.

Inside the cavernous Los Angeles Convention Center, the party’s rank and file were also divided on how to handle the situation, with even some Feinstein critics resigning themselves to the fact that the path of least resistance might be for her to stay.

Jacob Rodriguez, a 23-year-old delegate from Imperial County, was considering introducing a resolution that would «diplomatically» ask Feinstein to resign.

He knows it’s a long shot and probably just token, but he said it’s about time a younger person took over. “It sounds cruel, but it is a camera that is in charge of the entire country. Everyone should be in their right mind,” Rodríguez said.

But Charlene Lefaive, 71, and Sherry Chavarría, 66, delegates from Tulare County in the central California farm belt, said Feinstein shouldn’t be going anywhere.

“To take a person and judge them based on their health problems is absolutely horrible,” Lefaive said.

“She is wonderful,” added Chavarría. «She’s still needed.»