California's 2024 Senate Race Is Poised to Be a Historic Showdown — Here Are the Candidates to Watch

With the news that 89-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein will retire at the end of her term, some of the Democratic Party's biggest stars are preparing for the fight of their careers

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 11: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) in the Senate subway on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, May 11, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images); Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) speaks on stage about the change of the face of power in the United States after a history making number of diverse members were sworn into Congress the past elections, during a keynote discussion of the Netroots Nation progressive grassroots convention in Philadelphia, PA, on July 13, 2019. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images); LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 15: Honoree, United States Representative, Katie Porter attends the 2021 InStyle Awards at The Getty Center on November 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images for InStyle); WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 22: House impeachment managers (L-R) Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO), Sen. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) talk to reporters before the second day of the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol January 22, 2020 in Washington, DC. Both the House managers and Trump's defense lawyers were admonished by Chief Justice John Roberts during Tuesday's 13-hour-long session. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty; Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty; Jon Kopaloff/Getty for InStyle; Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Sen. Dianne Feinstein has occupied one of California's Senate seats since 1992, blocking dozens of politicians in the country's most populous state from elevating to the highest ranks of Congress. As the 89-year-old Democrat nears the end of her sixth term — she's now the oldest lawmaker in Washington and the senior-most senator in her party — she plans to retire, opening the door for one lucky politician to take her place.

It's rare for any Senate seat to open up — and in a state with 52 House representatives and dozens of popular state-level leaders, the battle for Feinstein's spot will be one of the most dramatic showdowns in the next election cycle.

Even before Feinstein formally announced her plan to sit out of the 2024 race, standouts in the Democratic Party began launching campaigns to backfill her. Here's everyone to look out for in the upcoming California Senate race, and what each hopes to bring to the table.

Representative Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California, speaks during a news conference at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, US, on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. The House Speaker said he's blocking Democrats Schiff and Swalwell from serving on the Intelligence Committee, making good on a long-standing promise and opening a new front in the chamber's partisan battles.
Adam Schiff. Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty

Rep. Adam Schiff

Party: Democratic

Age: 62

Experience: U.S. House of Representatives (2001-Present), California State Senate (1996-2000)

Adam Schiff became one of the most notable figures in Congress when, as chair of the House Intelligence Committee in 2019, he led the first impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump for his dealings with Ukraine. In the aftermath of Jan. 6, 2021 — when a mob of Trump supporters descended on the Capitol in an attempt to stop Joe Biden from becoming president — Schiff again made headlines as a member of the House committee investigating the attack.

In announcing his Senate campaign in January, Schiff said, "Today's Republican Party is gutting the middle class. Threatening our democracy. They aren't going to stop. We have to stop them."

He continued: "That's why I'm running for the U.S. Senate. The struggle isn't over. Not for me, not for you, not for our country. Together we can and will win this fight."

Schiff's decades as a moderate House Democrat have given him a strong record to play off in the campaign — and coupled with his newfound status as a fearless critic of Trump, he is very palatable to liberal California voters. Perhaps more compelling, though, is that he's already earned the support of fellow Californian and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has pledged to endorse Schiff in the absence of Feinstein. Given that Schiff is running against other well-liked Democrats, Pelosi's endorsement will go a long way toward distinguishing him from the pack.

Barbara Lee
Barbara Lee. Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images

Rep. Barbara Lee

Party: Democratic

Age: 76

Experience: U.S. House of Representatives (1998-Present), California State Senate (1996-1998), California State Assembly (1990-1996)

Barbara Lee threw her hat in the ring for the upcoming California Senate race in late February 2023, just weeks after she'd reportedly revealed her plans to run in closed-door meetings on the Hill.

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

In an accompanying video, Lee explained her unique life experiences, none of which were able to hold her down. "No one is rolling out the welcome mat — especially for someone like me. 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," she said. "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."

One week after announcing the Senate campaign, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass offered her endorsement to Lee, giving her early credibility as voters begin to weigh their options.

Lee is a longtime fixture in Washington, formerly co-chairing the Progressive Caucus, who made waves after 9/11 as the only member of Congress to vote against a resolution that gave the president power to use force against anyone involved in planning the attacks. (Lee contended that the law makes it too easy for the president to wage war.)

Prior to becoming an elected official, she volunteered for the Black Panther Party and worked on political campaigns, including the 1972 presidential campaign of Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress. She also earned a Master of Social Work from University of California, Berkeley.

Lee's campaign comes at a time when many in the state are frustrated that Kamala Harris' Senate seat wasn't backfilled by one of many qualified Black women (Lee was on the governor's shortlist of successors, but ultimately got passed over for California Secretary of State Alex Padilla). Harris was the only Black female in Senate at the time that she resigned for the vice presidency, and the upper chamber of Congress has been without that key representation ever since.

Lee would become an octogenarian during her first Senate term, which may be used as fuel against her in a race that began with a conversation about age limits for politicians (Feinstein has received criticism from some for holding onto her seat this long, and not stepping down amid 2022 rumors of cognitive decline). The race also coincides with a national debate about whether President Joe Biden, 80, is too old to serve another term.

Rep. Katie Porter
Rep. Katie Porter. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty

Rep. Katie Porter

Party: Democratic

Age: 49

Experience: U.S. House of Representatives (2019-Present)

Progressive firebrand Katie Porter was the first to enter the 2024 California Senate race when she announced her campaign in the first days of 2023. "The threat from so-called leaders like Mitch McConnell has too often made the United States Senate a place where rights get revoked, special interests get rewarded and our democracy gets rigged," Porter said in a video declaring her candidacy. "Especially in times like these, California needs a warrior in Washington."

Only in her third House term, Porter hardly feels like a political newcomer; within months of taking office, she had already enjoyed a number of viral moments for the way she grilled Fortune 500 CEOs and Trump administration officials with an unforgiving candor. Through her pointed questioning tactics, she caught a number of powerful figures in lies and routinely discredited their qualifications.

"I don't do Congress the way others do," Porter said in her campaign video. "I use whatever power I have to speak hard truths to the powers that be — to not just challenge the status quo, but call it out, name names and demand justice."

Porter's now-famous interrogation techniques stem from her prior career as a consumer protection attorney and onetime education from former Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Warren. Porter went on to become a law professor herself and wrote her own textbook called Modern Consumer Law. In 2012, while teaching as a tenured professor at University of California, Irvine School of Law, Porter was tapped by California's then-Attorney General Kamala Harris to serve as the state's independent bank monitor in a $25 billion settlement.

Porter is currently the deputy chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and while California voters are amenable to progressive values, she will face an uphill battle in convincing voters to side with her over safer, more established politicians.

This is a developing story. Check back for more candidate information as the race to 2024 unfolds.

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