What would a Senate candidate representative of California look like?

California residents aren’t the same — in appearance or education, among other things — as when Sen. Dianne Feinstein was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992.

Over the past three decades, the Latino, Asian and multiracial populations in California together saw a near twofold increase while the share of the population that is White declined more than 20%. In 2020, the Hispanic population — the designation used by the U.S. Census Bureau — became the single most populous group, surpassing the share of White residents for the first time in state history.

More than four in 10 Californians (who are at least 5 years old) speak a language other than English at home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And more Californians have at least a bachelor’s degree now: nearly 40% compared nearly 30% two decades ago.

So as speculation over Feinstein’s future in Washington, D.C., continues — especially as some lawmakers begin to make moves for the seat —- it begs the question: What would a candidate representative of California look like?

“California is not a state that exists in black and white. California is a multiracial, multiethnic, modern state,” said Sara Sadhwani, a Pomona College politics professor who sat on California’s redistricting commission in 2021.

“While anyone of any one race could never perfectly be the descriptive representative of all Californians, it’s a question of does she or any other candidate represent the values of California. Will she be able to connect with these different voters of color and voters of different backgrounds from her own?”

Rep. Katie Porter, D-Irvine, has already officially launched a 2024 Senate bid. Porter, 49, is a White single mother who taught bankruptcy law at UC Irvine’s School of Law. She is a Harvard Law alumna who has gone toe-to-toe against powerful executives, mostly men, in Congress.

Sadhwani said Porter’s reputation in the Democratic Party — especially as she’s well-liked among the more progressive wing — and her relationships with formidable women such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren will be a benefit.

FILE – Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., speaks during a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing on gun violence on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool, File)

But Porter’s Orange County roots might not be.

“Being from Orange County, being from a relatively affluent area, that will make it a little bit harder for her to connect with some of the communities of color, some of the lower-income working class and working poor that are living here in California who are also voters,” Sadhwani said.

Residents of Orange County are wealthier, whiter and more educated in aggregate than the rest of California. The median household earns a six-figure income, and more than 4 in 10 residents held at least a bachelor’s degree in 2021. The share of people who live below the poverty line is about 80% of the rate statewide.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., participates in a panel at the COP27 U.N. Climate Summit, Friday, Nov. 11, 2022, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Aside from Porter, Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland is also reportedly planning a run. She is the highest-ranking Black woman in Democratic congressional leadership, serving as the co-chair of the House Policy and Steering Committee. She has served in Congress since 1998 where she is a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee.

After moving to Los Angeles County as a teenager, Lee worked with the local NAACP to successfully integrate her high school cheerleading squad. Lee, 76, attended Mills College as a single mother, later receiving a master’s degree in social work from UC Berkeley.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., is seated in the House chamber on the opening day of the 118th Congress at the U.S. Capitol, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, in Washington.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Rep. Adam Schiff is another who will likely vie for Feinstein’s seat. The 12-term congressman has led the impeachment trial against former President Donald Trump and sat on the committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection. In Congress, Schiff, 62, represents a district that includes parts of Los Angeles, one of the most diverse cities in the country.

He’s also one of the 33 Jewish members in the 118th Congress. California is home to over 1 million people of Jewish faith — about 3% of the state’s total population — putting the state in the top 10 in terms of the percentage of Jewish population.

And then there’s Rep. Ro Khanna of the Bay Area. The son of Indian immigrants, he was first elected to serve Silicon Valley in 2016.

Khanna, 46, is an attorney and a former deputy assistant secretary of commerce in the Obama administration. He credits his grandfather — who participated in Gandhi’s independence movement and worked with Indian freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai — for inspiring him to become a public servant. As a member of Congress, Khanna advocates for immigration reform, including protecting the legal rights and status of undocumented immigrants.

His background as the son of immigrants may give him an edge, Sadhwani said: “Maybe that is something that could connect to a broader array of voters.”

Roughly 1 in 6 California residents are Asian American and Pacific Islander, making the state home to the largest AAPI population and the second-largest in terms of the share of the overall population after Hawaii.

UNITED STATES – JUNE 23: Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., speaks with Roll Call in his office on Thursday, June 23, 2022. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Matthew Beckmann, a UCI political science professor, predicted Feinstein’s successor “will almost surely be more progressive and more partisan, a reflection of modern times and California’s electorate.”

Aside from representation, name ID will matter in what could be a volatile primary to replace Feinstein — possibly giving Porter and Schiff an early edge, Beckmann said.

“California is a large and diverse state — physically, politically and socially,” Beckmann said. “It takes a ton of time, a ton of people and a ton of money to campaign statewide. That makes it hard for anyone without widespread name recognition and a strong donor base.”

“I think ultimately a candidate’s political biography carries more weight with voters than their personal history,” said Dan Schnur, a former campaign consultant who teaches at USC and UC Berkeley. “(Gov.) Gavin Newsom and Dianne Feinstein both came from very comfortable economic circumstances, so it’s not like it can’t be done.”

Porter has already demonstrated her fundraising power; she received $1.3 million in online donations in the first 24 hours since announcing her campaign. According to OpenSecrets, the Irvine Democrat raised more than $25 million in the midterm election cycle and ended her campaign with more than $7 million still in reserves.

“When it comes to electoral politics, money talks,” Sadhwani said. “So for anyone trying to run for that Senate seat, they’ll need a war chest in order to do the outreach necessary in a state as large as California.”

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