Primary Showdown Brewing in Race for California’s U.S. Senate Seat

Following Senator Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) confirmation that she will not run for re-election in 2024, the primary to succeed her is shaping up to be a drawn-out brawl between multiple high-profile Democrats.

As The Hill reports, there are already at least three major Democratic candidates, all current members of the House of Representatives. Although far-left Congresswoman Katie Porter (D-Calif.), the first candidate to announce, raised a stunning $1.3 million in the first 24 hours of her candidacy, the establishment support appears to have gone to Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) endorsing his bid for the seat.

Meanwhile, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) has allegedly already told allies that she plans to run, and will announce her candidacy later this month. Additionally, Congressman Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) is considered a possible contender although he has not yet signaled his intentions one way or the other.

In the money game, Schiff drastically leads the rest of the field. By the end of 2022, the disgraced former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee had over $21 million in campaign funds, compared to Porter’s $7.6 million and Lee’s less than $100,000.

Although every major candidate is far-left, the race may nevertheless come to be seen as a showdown between grassroots progressives and more establishment figures, with Porter and Lee representing the former while Schiff represents the latter.

“I see that as kind of like an arms race that almost mutuals out in the end,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the far-left Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which supports Porter. “The question is, what message are you advancing after you raise the resources?”

The race will also reflect California Democrats’ endless pursuit of so-called “diversity” in the candidates they run for major office. Although Schiff is backed by the establishment, he is the only White male running in a field of women and minorities. Feinstein’s retirement will mark the end of an era during which the state of California was, for 25 years, represented in the Senate by the same two women: Feinstein herself as the senior senator, and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) as the junior senator. Boxer retired in 2016 and was succeeded by Kamala Harris, who was subsequently succeeded by California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), who was appointed to the seat by Governor Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.).

As such, the possibility of both seats being held by men once again has angered some in the far-left base.

“In my adult voting memory, I only remember having female senators until Sen. Padilla,” said Laura Lowell, chairwoman of the Calaveras County Democratic Central Committee. “And I will miss that if we lost a female representing California in the Senate. I just think that would be so, so disappointing.”

In terms of the candidate’s profiles, Schiff has been a longtime fixture in the Democratic establishment primarily due to his role on the aforementioned House Intelligence Committee; during his time as chairman, he led numerous frivolous investigations against President Donald Trump, repeatedly and falsely accusing him of wrongdoing. At one point, Schiff claimed to be in possession of irrefutable evidence that President Trump colluded with the Russian government, but never presented it to the public. Schiff was forcibly removed from the Intelligence Committee by Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), along with Congressman Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), as well as Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who was removed from the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Porter, meanwhile, has been seen as a sort of rising star for California Democrats. As a far-left progressive, Porter was one of the Democrats who was first elected in 2018, a disastrous year for California Republicans when 7 of the only 14 House seats held by Republicans flipped blue, including all remaining seats in the traditionally conservative area of Orange County. Porter’s seat is one such district, as she was elected to the 45th district by defeating incumbent Mimi Walters (R-Calif.). Although other Democrats who won seats in Orange County were subsequently defeated in 2020, Porter managed to hold onto her seat and was again re-elected in 2022.

Congresswoman Lee would be running primarily on the issue of her identity as a black woman, considered the ideal candidate for the current diversity-obsessed Democratic Party. But Lee, an ally of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), can also be considered an outsider at odds with the establishment. Most prominently, she was the sole member of the House of Representatives to vote against an authorization of the use of military force in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

“I think the lens, if you will, of having an African American female representing us in the Senate, representing California, could be huge,” said Susan Hildreth, chairwoman of the Democrats of Rossmoor.

The seat, like the state of California as a whole, is widely considered a safe Democratic contest. Republicans have not won a statewide office in California since 2006, and the last Republican to represent California in the U.S. Senate was John Seymour, whom Feinstein defeated in 1992. As statewide candidacies are increasingly seen as futile efforts, there are currently no major Republican candidates lined up to run for the Senate seat.

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About Eric Lendrum

Eric Lendrum graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he was the Secretary of the College Republicans and the founding chairman of the school’s Young Americans for Freedom chapter. He has interned for Young America’s Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, and the White House, and has worked for numerous campaigns including the 2018 re-election of Congressman Devin Nunes (CA-22). He is currently a co-host of The Right Take podcast.

Photo: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) holds a news conference to announce proposed gun control legislation at the U.S. Capitol October 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. In reaction to Sunday's mass shooting in Las Vegas that left 59 people dead and hundreds injured, Feinstein's legislation would ban devices that could make weapons fully automatic.