California Democrats have acted as if both this state’s Senate seats automatically belong to them from the first moment it became clear longtime Sen. Dianne Feinstein must step down sometime within the next 20 months.
Early on, she announced plans to leave office when her term expires at the end of December 2024, after her fifth full term in the office where she’s been the most durable of the last half century’s California politicians.
Three prominent congressional Democrats — Adam Schiff of Burbank, Katie Porter of Irvine and Barbara Lee of Oakland — continually act as if the ongoing race for the seat Feinstein will vacate due to age-related difficulties will without doubt go to one of them.
All three are actively raising money and priming supporters to vote next March, when they figure the California primary election will cut the field down to two of them, for a Democrat-on-Democrat contest in the November 2024 general election.
They showed no concern when frequent candidate Eric Early, a Republican, announced his own candidacy in mid-April. Early lost handily to Schiff in a 2020 congressional contest and never got past the primaries in running for state attorney general in 2018 and 2022.
But add him to the mix, and Republican voters and others who don’t like the idea that Democrats figure this seat somehow should belong to them forever now have someone to vote for.
Put another Republican — say Northern California state Sen. Brian Dahle for one possible example — into the running, and GOP voters would have two choices.
Now factor in California’s almost-unique “top two” primary system, which applies in all elections here for state offices lesser than president. This system has sometimes produced runoff elections pitting two Republicans in legislative or congressional districts with heavy Democratic majorities, when enough Democrats ran in primaries to splinter their party’s vote and give GOP candidates both runoff slots.
That’s also happened in Republican districts where too many GOP hopefuls ran and Democrats became the top two. This so-called “jungle primary” system produced an all-Democratic Senate matchup in 2016, when former state Attorney General Kamala Harris beat then-Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez of Orange County.
In fact, Democrat-on-Democrat races are fairly common in this state, where registered Republicans are outnumbered almost 2-1.
Now mix in the possibility that Feinstein succumbs to steady pressure on her to step down even sooner than she’s promised. With Gov. Gavin Newsom having committed himself two years ago to appoint a Black woman to the next vacant Senate seat, he would most likely name Lee, who could then identify herself on next year’s ballot as an incumbent, a huge advantage in most political races.
Newsom made that commitment while appointing old friend Alex Padilla to the Senate seat Harris vacated on becoming vice president. Padilla later won election on his own, but Newsom felt pressure because Black women vocally believed the former Harris seat should have gone to one of them, as her moving up in rank left the Senate without any Black females.
So Newsom essentially confirmed the presumption by Black women — about 4.5 %of the state’s populace — that one of California’s Senate seats “belongs” to them, when in fact Senate seats belong to no group, but must be won by individuals.
If Lee were to get Newsom’s nod before the primary, she might dominate the Democratic vote and allow a Republican to sneak into the runoff against her, despite the fact Schiff and Porter have far larger campaign war chests.
Meanwhile, Lee supporters are doing all they can to set up just that situation. One example: Her campaign co-chair, Silicon Valley Rep. Ro Khanna, the other day made headlines when he virtually demanded Feinstein’s resignation because she’s been laid up at home with shingles for more than a month, while President Biden’s judicial nominees languished without majority votes to confirm them in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Feinstein has been a longtime member.
The upshot is that this Senate race is fraught with possibilities for new and different situations that could make it even more interesting than it now appears.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.