Those who know Becerra describe him as a man who seeks out others' views and is more concerned with building consensus than manipulating outcomes. "He is very good at listening, and he is also good at making sure that people have their voices heard, whether or not he agrees with those points of view," said Rep. Ted Lieu, a freshman from a neighboring Los Angeles district. The two have known each other since the 1990s, and Lieu supported Becerra's ill-fated 2001 run for mayor of Los Angeles. "I've yet to see him yell at anyone," Lieu added. "He's unflappable."
Another longtime friend of Becerra went even further. "He's a poster child that the Boy Scouts could use," said Mickey Ibarra, a veteran of the Clinton White House and founder of the Latino Leaders Network, who has known Becerra since his early days in Congress.
That squeaky-clean reputation won't be so easy to maintain—and may not be much use—in a knock-down, drag-out statewide campaign. Nor, for that matter, in the often-nasty internal politics of a Capitol Hill leadership election. But whether it's "sharp elbows" or a "killer instinct" that Becerra will need to move up politically, he's not interested in discussing whether he'll have to shed his nice-guy reputation.
"It's good to know people think I'm a nice guy," he a said in a brief interview in a Capitol elevator, quickly segueing into a recap of tough House votes that he believes have prepared him for the Senate. Becerra's office would not make him available for a lengthier discussion despite weeks of interview requests.
Becerra says he's looking "very seriously" at the Senate race, and with the news last month that former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa would not be running, more people are looking at him as a serious contender. Harris has lined up a broad swath of support, but the state's demographics suggest there may be room in the race for a Latino candidate with a Southern California base.
"What he has is more than even a Hispanic coalition," said Rep. Janice Hahn, a fellow Los Angeles Democrat who recently announced a bid for the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. "He has a Southern California coalition. We in Southern California would love to see someone from Southern California be a candidate."
Eliseo Medina, a labor organizer and immigration activist who considers Becerra a friend, said he could also earn support from labor and business groups. And his nice-guy reputation, Medina said, could even be an asset as he tries to earn support from various factions. "I don't know anybody that I've spoken to in all my years in California that would have something against Xavier," he said. "He's managed to build broad relationships."
Whether or not Becerra chooses to run statewide, he's more than put in his time in the House, where he's served since 1993. His one electoral blemish was the 2001 mayoral race, which was plagued by poor fundraising and the fallout from a deceptive telephone ad linked to his campaign. He earned only 6 percent of the primary vote.