The State of the California Senate Race

By Yuto K. ’23

It has only been four months since the 2022 midterm elections, yet, politicians are already positioning themselves for the 2024 elections. For the presidential election, the Republican field is growing, while Joe Biden is expected to seek reelection on the Democratic side. It is no different for the Senate elections where incumbents are deciding whether to seek reelection or retire and challengers are gearing up for a run. You can add the California Senate Race to that list.

Senator Dianne Feinstein has held one of California’s Senate seats since 1992. However, last month, Senator Feinstein announced that she would retire at the end of her term in January 2025. This was a widely expected decision as campaign finances showed in the months prior that she had very little cash on hand for her campaign and was not actively fundraising. And now for the first time in over 30 years, this seat will be open. 

Since California is usually a safe Democratic seat combined and the two Senate seats have rarely been simultaneously up for grabs in the past 30 years, California Senate races do not typically garner that much national attention. From the early 1990s to 2016, Feinstein and Barbara Boxer occupied the two seats. Then when Boxer retired, now Vice President Kamala Harris was the frontrunner the whole election cycle. When Harris resigned to become Vice President, Governor Gavin Newsom appointed Alex Padilla to serve out the rest of her term, and easily won reelection in 2022.

As it has been such a long time for a Senate seat in California to be this wide open, many California politicians who have been waiting patiently to rise in the ranks are looking to take the opportunity for their next step. In what is expected to be a loaded primary field, three prominent House members have already announced their candidacies. Representative Adam Schiff of Burbank (CA-30), Representative Katie Porter of Orange County (CA-47), and Representative Barbara Lee of Oakland (CA-12). 

Schiff was a leading voice in the impeachment trials of Donald Trump, as well as the January 6th Investigation, and has been a frequent target of Republicans, most recently being removed from the House Intelligence Committee by Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Schiff has received the endorsement of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Porter is known for her sharp questioning of officials during congressional hearings and has gone viral for her use of a whiteboard to explain her ideas. Porter has received an endorsement from Senator Elizabeth Warren. Lee has been in the House for over twenty years and has often had distinctive foreign policy positions such as opposing the Iraq War and being the sole member of the House to vote against the “Authorization of Military Force” following the 9/11 attacks. Lee has received endorsements from current Los Angeles mayor Karen Bass and San Francisco mayor London Breed.

Since California uses a jungle primary system, it is possible that two Democrats will be on the ballot in the general election. A jungle primary system means that all candidates regardless of political affiliation (Democrat, Republican, etc…) will be on the same ballot during the primary (March 2024 for California), and the top two vote-getters advance to the general. This happened in the California Senate races in 2016 and 2018, where the two candidates in the general election were Democrats. 

As it is a year away from the primary elections, it is too early to say who is the current frontrunner for the seat, and more prominent candidates may enter the race in the coming months. Clearly, this is just the beginning of an expensive and attention-grapping election cycle in California.

Categories: News

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