Longtime Congresswoman Barbara Lee Enters Heated California Senate Race: 'I've Never Backed Down'

Lee is the third U.S. House member to launch a campaign to replace Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who recently announced she would not run for reelection in 2024

Barbara Lee
Barbara Lee. Photo: Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images

California Rep. Barbara Lee launched a campaign for the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, releasing a video on social media highlighting her career as a lawmaker, as well as the obstacles she's faced throughout her life.

"No one is rolling out the welcome mat — especially for someone like me," the 76-year-old California Democrat says in a voiceover in the ad. "I was the girl they didn't allow in, who couldn't drink from the water fountain, who had an abortion in the back alley when they all were illegal."

Lee continues: "I escaped a violent marriage. Became a single mom, a homeless mom — a mom who couldn't afford childcare and brought her kids to class with her."

Lee is the third U.S. House member to enter the 2024 California Senate race to replace Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who recently announced that she would not run for reelection but intends to complete her term.

Democrats Katie Porter and Adam Schiff also recently announced that they would run for the seat being vacated by Feinstein, the longest-serving female senator in history.

In her ad, Lee cites various legislative accomplishments, such as writing California's first Violence Against Women Act, and writing the Hate Crimes Reduction Act, which was signed into law by a Republican governor. She also notes that there are currently no African American women in the Senate.

In the ad released Tuesday, Lee says she hopes to "ease the burden on the middle class," "find a solution to poverty and homelessness" and "stop these MAGA extremists who think they can control people's bodies and dismantle our democracy."

Lee — a progressive who was first elected to the U.S. House in a 1998 special election — began her career as a volunteer for the Black Panther Party during college, which she attended as a single mom of two boys receiving public assistance.

As president of the Mills College Black Student Union, she invited Rep. Shirley Chisholm — the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Congress — to speak on campus. Eventually, Lee went on to work on Chisholm's 1972 presidential campaign, serving as her delegate at the 1972 Democratic National Convention.

Speaking to PEOPLE in 2022, Lee said her goal as a lawmaker was to "make sure that people who are working and look like me don't have to go through all the challenges that I had to go through. So I'm going to fight to change this country, and the policies and the world."

"I mean, that sounds kind of idealistic," she added at the time, "but that's really how I feel about my work."

In a tweet announcing her campaign on Tuesday, Lee wrote: "I've never backed down from doing what's right. And I never will. Californians deserve a strong, progressive leader who has delivered real change."

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