Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) will be 91 on Election Day 2024. A lot of people think Joe Biden is too old to run in 2024 at 81, but 91 is a whole different league. Biden makes gaffes sometimes, but he did this when he was much younger as well. He's not really showing many signs of aging. Feinstein is showing a lot of them. Most California Democratic politicians think she is way past her "use by" date and will not run for reelection in 2024. Consequently, there is already a big underground campaign going on to succeed her. The Democratic bench is groaning with potential candidates and they all know it is time to start now to get a leg up on the competition.
For starters, Adam Schiff has publicly said he is considering running. Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Katie Porter (D-CA) are hearing from people who want them to run. All of them are talking to former Democratic senator Barbara Boxer for advice. California is so blue that once a Democrat is elected to the Senate, he or she is sure of staying there until the cows come home. Or the senator hits 91. Thus open seats are exceedingly rare, making a potentially open seat a once-in-a-generation opportunity for ambitious Democrats. Well, unless someone vacates a seat to become vice president.
Feinstein hasn't said a word about her plans and wannabe senators are careful not to push her too hard. They know she bridles when pushed into a corner. But running a statewide campaign in California is a massive undertaking. It requires a large staff experienced in statewide elections and a ton of money. Waiting until Feinstein gets around to throwing in the towel just won't do and all the potential candidates know this. Feinstein is not serving her party well by playing coy.
In the event that Feinstein decides to run for reelection, the gloves will come off. She will have many primary opponents, all of whom will gently or not so gently say that she is too old and mentally not up to the job anymore. It would be a sad way for someone who has served her city (she was mayor of San Francisco) and state so well and so long to end her career, but it is her call. If she says: "I've done my best, but now it is time for a new generation" she will go out in glory, with Democrats up and down the line praising her. In the event of a primary, she will almost certainly lose due to California law. Even if she comes in first in the all-party primary, she will have to duke it out one-on-one in November 2024 with the second-place finisher, almost certainly another Democrat. In that race, which will focus almost entirely on her age and mental condition, and not on the issues since she and the challenger will agree on most of them, she is unlikely to win.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) is also considering a run, but at 76 she is probably too old. It takes at least 10 years of seniority to get any real power in the Senate, and by the time she got that, many people would be calling on her to retire. In contrast, Khanna is 46, Porter is 48, and Schiff is 62. If Feinstein were to retire before her term was up, Lee is the odds-on favorite to be appointed as a placeholder because the Black community would appreciate the gesture and Lee would almost certainly step out of the way in 2024 so the other contenders would have a level playing field.
Also relevant is that Porter and Schiff are prodigious fundraisers. Schiff led the first impeachment of Donald Trump, which gave him national exposure. Just to give you an idea, Lee raised $1.9 million in 2022 and had $126K on hand as of Sept. 30. Schiff raised $22.0 million and had $21.0 million in the bank on Sept. 30. Porter raised $22.7 million but had only $8.9 million left on Sept. 30. Schiff doesn't need that kind of money to run a House race in a D+23 district. Porter's district is only D+3, so $5 million would be nice, but $21 million is overkill for a House race. (V)