With the news that long-time Sen. Dianne Feinstein is retiring after next year, a number of the Democratic Party’s most well-known Californians are jumping into the 2024 race for her coveted United States Senate seat. Thus far, Democratic representatives Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam Schiff have announced their bids, while Rep. Ro Khanna has indicated his openness to running.
Ultimately, Schiff stands out as the clear early favorite to win the seat, despite having only a slight edge in the current polls. His 22-year-long record in the U.S. House has earned him a place in the Democratic establishment, allowing him to garner prominent endorsements and fundraising right out of the gate. These factors, taken together with his politically moderate messaging, distinguish him from his two competitors, and make it likely that his support levels will grow as the campaign progresses.
Currently, Schiff is polling in first place with 22% support, per a recent survey by the Los Angeles Times, though roughly one-half of the electorate is undecided. Porter is trails Schiff in a close second place with 20%, while Lee ranks in a distant third place with 6%.
Schiff has already gained a number of crucial endorsements, including from former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 20 members of California’s Congressional delegation and several members of the California Legislature. He is a nationally recognized politician who led the first impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump and then played an integral role in the Select Committee’s investigation of the Jan. 6 insurrection.
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Moreover, Schiff is a prolific fundraiser, and had over $20 million cash on hand before even announcing his Senate candidacy. His district encompasses a number of wealthy Los Angeles County neighborhoods, from west Pasadena into Los Feliz and Hollywood, and with Pelosi’s support, Schiff can win over the San Francisco and Northern California donor base as well, making it likely he maintains a cash advantage for the entirety of the race.
Meanwhile, Porter, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who represents parts of Orange County, has earned the endorsement of her mentor and prominent progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. For her part, Porter is a strong fundraiser, having raised a considerable sum of $25 million during the 2022 election cycle (although she spent most of it to win her highly contested midterm campaign). She also raised over $1 million on the day her Senate candidacy was announced.
However, Porter has no presence in Northern California and also vastly underperformed in the midterm elections this year. Porter won the newl -drawn 47th district by less than 4 percentage points in 2022, yet Biden won the area by 11 points in the 2020 presidential election just two years earlier.
Porter has also times has shown a lack of political deftness — including recently, when she was ripped by fellow Democrats for launching her Senate run while California was in the midst of a bout of deadly storms. The congresswoman is also known for engaging in performative politics, which could turn off voters: at Donald Trump’s impeachment hearing, Porter wore a Halloween “Batgirl” costume on the House floor, and during this year’s vote for House Speaker, she was seen reading a book titled “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.”
Related: Katie Porter should drop out and endorse Barbara Lee
As for Lee, who was the only member of Congress to vote against the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists in 2001, she has had a successful career as a House progressive addressing hot-button issues like abortion rights and gun control. That said, she is older at the age of 76, and has a major cash disadvantage, with just $54,940 in her campaign account.
In addition to having an edge over his opponents on fundraising and endorsements, Schiff’s messaging sets him apart. He is positioning himself as a moderate Democrat who will work for the middle class to reduce the cost of living and healthcare prices, while also still prioritizing core Democratic issues like climate change and protecting democratic norms.
In a state where taxes and energy costs are astronomically high, which has caused hundreds of thousands of residents to flee to lower tax states, Schiff’s kitchen-table message is likely to resonate far more than the progressive vision his opponents, particularly Porter, are articulating.
Indeed, there has been a tidal wave over the last two years of California voters — even in the most liberal cities — rejecting progressive positions, especially on the issues of crime and homelessness, as both problems are rampant in major cities across the state.
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Last year, the progressive district attorney of San Francisco, Chesa Boudin, who supported eliminating cash bail and released recidivist suspects, was removed from office by voters in a recall election. Los Angeles’ progressive D.A. George Gascón has also repeatedly come under fire for adopting similar positions, and a recent recall petition against him just barely fell short of the required signatures needed for removal.
It’s important to recall that California’s general election candidates are chosen by a nonpartisan “blanket primary” where the top-two vote getters — regardless of political party — advance to the general election. At this point, it does not seem likely that a prominent Republican candidate will jump into the race, which will ultimately allow Schiff to consolidate his support against Lee and Porter, who will likely split the progressive vote in the primary.
Although the race is still in its infancy, the California electorate’s shift back to the middle on key issues, taken together with Adam Schiff’s national prominence, top-tier endorsements and fundraising capabilities make him the prohibitive favorite to be the state’s next U.S. senator.
Douglas Schoen is a longtime Democratic political consultant.