California Senate race gets crowded with 3 progressive Democrats already in the running

·6 min read
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, joins Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., at a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, joins Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., at a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022. | J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

The California Senate race is already in full swing, with three prominent Democratic candidates who have already announced their campaigns.

California Senate races can be demanding, including the requirement of a hefty war chest to fund advertising in the state’s expensive cities, especially since campaign announcements for the 2024 election came early.

The last to announce, and with the least funding, is Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. But Rep. Ro Khanna gave a boost to his colleague Lee’s campaign by giving her an endorsement Sunday.

Khanna described her as a “unique voice” and “the lone vote against the endless war in Afghanistan,” in an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.

“We don’t have a single African American woman in the United States Senate. She would fill that role,” Khanna said.

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A competitive group of Democratic candidates — Lee, and two other representatives, Adam Schiff and Katie Porter — are vying to fill Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s seat.

Feinstein, a senator for over 30 years, announced in February that she will not run for reelection in 2024. She is currently recovering from shingles, as The San Francisco Chronicle reported.

California’s primary system allows two Democrats to face off in a general election, which may end up being the case since no prominent Republican has jumped into the race yet. Here’s a look at all three California Senate candidates.

Rep. Barbara Lee

Lee is a progressive Democrat who has been a representative for 23 years. Before that, she served in the California State Senate and the California State Assembly.

“I’ve never backed down from doing what’s right. And I never will,” the Oakland area representative said in her announcement tweet.

“No one is rolling out the welcome mat, especially for someone like me. I was the girl they didn’t allow in,” Lee said in the video. “They didn’t want to hear my voice or anyone who wasn’t like them. But by the grace of God, I didn’t let that stop me.”

Since declaring her bid for the Senate in February, Lee has received endorsements from leading Democrats like Mayors London Breed of San Francisco, Karen Bass of Los Angeles and Helen Tran of San Bernardino, as well as California State Attorney General Rob Bonta.

Meanwhile, Khanna, who recently announced he will not run and instead endorsed Lee, is co-chairing her campaign.

Considering the tough competition Schiff and Porter are putting up, Khanna’s help may be necessary to keep Lee’s campaign stay afloat. Especially since Lee has only $54,000 in her campaign account, a small amount compared to her opposition, as Bloomberg reported.

She would become the only Black senator serving in Congress if elected, and the third in history after Vice President Kamala Harris and former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.

Rep. Katie Porter

Porter was the first to jump into the 2024 Senate race, announcing her candidacy in January.

The Orange County representative has only served three terms but doesn’t always come across as a newcomer, especially since she has Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s support.

“(Katie)’s smart, and she has a backbone made out of steel,” Warren said in a video, according to NBC News. “We need her and her whiteboard in the United States Senate,” the Massachusetts senator said, referencing the times Porter has used a whiteboard to drive a point across in committee hearings. Images of Porter and the whiteboard have gone viral several times and she has garnered a TikTok following of over 300,000.

“I don’t do Congress the way others often do. I use whatever power I have, speak hard truths to the powers that be,” she said in her announcement video posted to Twitter. “To not just challenge the status quo, but call it out.”

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Porter has proven to be adept at fundraising. During the 2021-2022 session, she raised over $25 million and had over $7 million in cash on hand, according to Open Secrets, making her one of the top fundraisers in the House.

Rep. Adam Schiff

Where Porter has Warren, Schiff has Rep. Nancy Pelosi. The two worked closely during the first impeachment of President Donald Trump and the House committee’s inquiry into the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, as The San Francisco Chronicle reported.

“In his service in the House, he has focused on strengthening our democracy with justice and on building an economy that works for all,” Pelosi said of Schiff at the time of his announcement in late January, promising to endorse him only if Feinstein dropped out.

“I wish I could say the threat of extremism is over. It is not,” Schiff said in his announcement video. “Today’s Republican Party is gutting the middle class and threatening our democracy. They aren’t going to stop. We have to stop them.”

Schiff got his start as a California state senator before his election to Congress.

The Los Angeles representative has also shown he can raise a lot of money, raising nearly $25 million during his last election with over $20 million cash on hand, per Open Secrets.

It's worth noting that a poll from last month, conducted by the University of California, Berkeley-Los Angeles Times, put Schiff in the lead in the race for the Senate seat, with 22% support, followed by Porter and Lee with 20% and 6%, respectively.

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