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Graphic of a person's hand placing a ballot in a ballot box decorated with the U.S. Capitol Building with an American flag in the background.
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US Senator
Alex Padilla (D), who was appointed to Kamala Harris' seat when she became vice president, faces Mark Meuser (R) twice on the Nov. 8 ballot.
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Sitting U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, a Democrat, got more than 54% of the vote in the June 7 primary. Republican Mark Meuser finished second with 15% of the vote. You'll see both of them on your Nov. 8 ballot.

What does a U.S. Senator for California do?

Senators represent their state’s interests in crafting federal laws and policies that govern our country.

More Voter Guides

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  • Water Agencies: Learn what they do and what to look for in a candidate

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California propositions

  • Propositions 26 and 27: The difference between the sports betting ballot measures
  • Proposition 29: Why kidney dialysis is on your ballot for the third time
  • Proposition 30: Why Lyft is the biggest funder of this ballot measure

Head to the Voter Game Plan homepage for guides to the rest of your ballot.

Quick civics recap: Congress has two bodies, the Senate and the House of Representatives. While House lawmakers represent people based on population, there are only two senators for each state, regardless of how many people live there. And because California is the most populous state in the country, that also means we’re the least represented when it comes to the Senate — just two lawmakers for more than 39 million people. (Compare that with Wyoming, which has two senators representing just under 582,000 people.)

The Senate, like the House, can draft or amend legislation that must get approved by both chambers before the president signs it into law. But the Senate has its own specific powers: it votes to confirm presidential nominations to the Supreme Court, ambassadorships and other positions, and votes to approve treaties, neither of which House representatives can do.

Senators are elected to six-year terms, and there are no term limits. That’s why longtime Californians may recognize the same names on their ballots time and time again — our senators have tended to serve for quite a while. Senator Dianne Feinstein, for example, has been in her seat for 30 years and counting, making her the longest-serving senator in California history. Former Senator Barbara Boxer held her seat for 24 years, as did her predecessor, Alan Cranston.

Democrats have held both Senate seats for the past three decades. Our last full-term Republican senator was Pete Wilson, who left the seat in 1990 after being elected governor of California.

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Senators get elected in rotation, so one-third of the Senate faces election every two years. California doesn’t elect both its senators at the same time — our last senatorial election was in 2018, when Feinstein defeated challenger Kevin de León (a city councilman who ran for L.A. mayor this year) in the runoff.

In a twist, you’ll see two opportunities to vote for U.S. Senate on your Nov. 8 ballot.

The first will be a vote on who should finish the rest of the current term, which ends in Jan. 2023. Padilla was appointed to the seat by Gov. Gavin Newsom after Kamala Harris, who previously held the seat, was elected U.S. vice president. We’re referring to this seat as “short-term senator” in the guide.

The second vote is for the full six-year term that begins in Jan. 2023. Padilla and Meuser are the two candidates for both the short-term and long-term seats.

You might recognize their work from…

In recent years, the Senate has:

  • Confirmed several Supreme Court justices, most recently Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, and Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.
  • Passed $5.7 trillion worth of spending bills to provide financial assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic, and a $1 trillion infrastructure bill to improve roads and bridges, as well as water, internet and electrical infrastructure.
  • Blocked the advancement of two sweeping voting rights bills. One included measures like making Election Day a paid holiday, increasing access to mail-in ballots, and allowing for early voting, while the other aimed to restore parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that were struck down in a Supreme Court decision.
  • Acquitted President Donald Trump twice — once in 2020 after he was impeached by the House for allegedly soliciting foreign interference in that year’s presidential election, and again in 2021 for allegedly inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. 

What’s on the agenda for the next term?

Along with the House, the Senate has to address a number of big problems facing the country: inflation, high gas prices, the continued threat of climate change, fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the possibility of new COVID-19 surges and variants. Congress also has to figure out how to solve longstanding issues that have faced legislative impasses, like immigration reform, student debt relief, and paid family leave. And because the senators we elect this year will serve for six years, they’ll have to work with the winner of the 2024 presidential election.

More reading

See Alex Padilla's voting record at ProPublica.

Represent (ProPublica): You can use this tool to look up any legislator and see what they’ve done in Congress, from how they voted on bills to statements they’ve made on national issues. 


Mark P. Meuser

Constitutional Attorney (Republican)

This profile is from CalMatters' 2022 Voter Guide. See their full guide for more on Meuser's work history and stances on specific issues.

Mark Meuser is a career lawyer whose work has never strayed far from conservative politics. Born in Huntington Beach, Meuser got a law degree at Oak Brook Christian, a correspondence college. After a brief detour working for a Republican state senator in Missouri, he set up his own private practice in the East Bay before landing a job at a law office perhaps best known for waging legal war against California’s liberal laws.

This isn’t the first time Meuser has run for office. It’s not even the first time he’s run against Alex Padilla. In races for state senator to Secretary of State, the Republican hasn’t been deterred by the long odds of pitching his red policies to mostly blue voters.

Campaign website: markmeuser.com
Contributions: Federal Election Commission filings
Endorsements: California Republican Party (links to Voter's Edge profile)

More resources:


Alex Padilla

Incumbent (Democratic)

This profile is from CalMatters' 2022 Voter Guide. See their full guide for more on Padilla's work history and stances on specific issues.

The son of two Mexican immigrants who settled in Pacoima, Padilla graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and then made the unlikely jump into politics in his mid-20s. Like many of California’s most powerful Latino politicians, Padilla says the impetus for him to get involved was Proposition 187, the 1994 California ballot measure that sought to block public education and non-essential services to undocumented immigrants. (It was successfully challenged in court and never implemented.)

Since then, Padilla has steadily climbed the ranks of California political power: From staffer to Sen. Dianne Feinstein to Los Angeles City Council member to state senator to California’s Secretary of State. It was early in his state Senate career when Padilla made the fateful decision to support then-San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom in his 2014 unsuccessful campaign for governor. That cemented a political alliance that made Padilla an obvious choice when Newsom was elected governor four years later and was tasked with filling Harris' seat in the Senate.

Campaign website: alex-padilla.com
Contributions: Federal Election Commission filings
Endorsements: List of endorsements (Campaign website)

More resources:

More Voter Guides

City of Los Angeles

L.A. County

  • Sheriff: Compare the two candidates for L.A. County sheriff
  • Water Agencies: Learn what they do and what to look for in a candidate

How to evaluate judges

California propositions

  • Propositions 26 and 27: The difference between the sports betting ballot measures
  • Proposition 29: Why kidney dialysis is on your ballot for the third time
  • Proposition 30: Why Lyft is the biggest funder of this ballot measure

Head to the Voter Game Plan homepage for guides to the rest of your ballot.