By David M. Herszenhorn -
LOS ANGELES — Representative Xavier Becerra, Democrat of California, had loaded the question for precise effect.
“How many people here can say they are immigrants, the child of immigrants or the grandchild of immigrants?” he asked the boisterous, screaming supporters waiting for Hillary Clinton on Thursday in a gymnasium at East Los Angeles College just outside his center-city district.
“This election is personal, very personal, right?” Mr. Becerra shouted, as the crowd roared back in agreement. “You have got to get out there. I’ve got to get out there, because they are talking about us.”
Mr. Becerra, who as the No. 4 Democrat in the House is the highest-ranking Hispanic lawmaker in the party, has made the fight against Donald J. Trump and Republicans personal. On Spanish-language television, where he is recognizable to millions of viewers, he has become the most prominent and outspoken advocate of Mrs. Clinton to a constituency she hopes to win over in huge numbers to capture the White House.
It is a task Democrats hope has been made easier by Mr. Trump’s derogatory comments about immigrants and his pledge to have Mexico build a wall at the border. But fortunes beyond Mrs. Clinton’s are at stake. Mr. Becerra, who is serving his 24th year in the House, finds himself at age 58 blocked in his climb by more senior Democrats: the minority leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California; the whip, Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland; and Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, who ranks No. 3.
Known among colleagues in Washington for his poise on camera and his discipline in staying on message — equally fluently in English and Spanish — Mr. Becerra is now the subject of hopeful whispering among some Hispanic Democrats as a long-shot prospect to be Mrs. Clinton’s running mate.
“When we were going through the list for Fritz Mondale back in 1984, nobody thought Gerry Ferraro was on the list,” said Art Torres, a former California state senator and former longtime chairman of the state Democratic Party, who hired Mr. Becerra to be an aide in his district office in the mid-1980s.
In an interview, Mr. Becerra candidly agreed that he would accept such an offer. “What do you do if you really believe in this kind of work?” he asked with a smile, as his car, driven by his district director, Liz Saldivar, maneuvered through a crowd of Bernie Sanders supporters who were protesting the Clinton rally. Some of them carried signs with slogans like “Deport Hillary Clinton.”
But Mr. Becerra also said he saw his future in the House, where he hoped to help lead a major overhaul of immigration laws that Mrs. Clinton has promised to pursue if she wins the White House.
Unlike Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, another rising star in the party who decided to run for the Senate this year rather than wait for other leadership positions to open up in the House, Mr. Becerra declined to seek the seat being vacated by Senator Barbara Boxer of California, who is retiring.
While a Senate race would have been an expensive and risky bet — a run for mayor of Los Angeles in 2001 was a total flop, getting him just 6 percent of the primary vote — winning re-election to the House is a near certainty in his heavily immigrant downtown district, which includes parts of Chinatown, Koreatown and Boyle Heights, a largely Hispanic area. In 2014, Mr. Becerra won 72.5 percent of the vote, a low total for him, only because under a new primary system, he faced a fellow Democrat in the general election. In 2012, the last time he ran against a Republican, Mr. Becerra won 85.6 percent of the vote.
By staying in the House, Mr. Becerra seems to be betting that his arduous campaigning on behalf of Mrs. Clinton — he has held events for her in 10 states and made countless television appearances — and his work to support fellow House Democrats will secure him a continued role in leadership, even if the path is so far uncertain.
In the meantime, he seems to relish his role on the presidential campaign trail, and the speculation that comes with it. For those who play the insider game, Mr. Becerra was part of a three-person presidential delegation to the Vatican for the canonization Mass for Popes John XXIII and John Paul II in 2014. Joining him were John Podesta, the Clinton campaign chairman, who is expected to lead the vice-presidential selection process, and Katie Beirne Fallon, President Obama’s former legislative affairs director, whose husband, Brian Fallon, is a spokesman for the Clinton campaign.
Despite such connections, conventional wisdom would suggest that Mrs. Clinton, in a race against Mr. Trump, would need to broaden her appeal among white men. Still, Mr. Trump’s unorthodox candidacy may make traditional calculations obsolete. Mr. Torres said Mr. Becerra would have a lot to offer the Democratic ticket, as a son of Mexican-American immigrants who went on to get economics and law degrees at Stanford, and whose reputation is unblemished. Mr. Becerra and his wife, Carolina Reyes, an obstetrician who specializes in high-risk pregnancies, have three daughters.
“Totally an Eagle Scout — I think he still drinks milk with his lunch,” Mr. Torres said of Mr. Becerra. “Having served on some of these vice-presidential selection committees in the past, I can tell you: No. 1, first of all, is loyalty and trust. That has to be the top priority. He fits the bill. And he’s articulate in both Spanish and English.”
That much was certainly clear as Mr. Becerra made the rounds in his district last week.
Moments before jumping onstage, where he gave his speech in English, Mr. Becerra paused to give an interview to a local reporter from Univision, who wanted proof that Mrs. Clinton “nos conoce” — that she “knows us.”
Mr. Becerra, continuing in Spanish, repeated a favorite saying, “Tell me with whom you walk, and I’ll tell you who you are.”
“I know with whom I walk,” he said, “because Hillary Clinton has walked with us for a long time.”