Dem 51
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GOP 49
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DiFi Says "Bye-Bye"

All good things must come to an end. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is pushing 90, just lost her husband, is suffering from memory problems, has not been raising money for her next campaign, and already has multiple upwardly mobile members of the House openly running for her seat. Everyone could see where this was headed, and yesterday the Senator finally acknowledged it, announcing that she will not stand for reelection in 2024.

Feinstein has had a brilliant career, by any measure. Her first successful campaign was for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors back in 1969, when women in political office were still something of a rarity. She served there for 8 years before being elevated to the mayoralty. Not too many folks know this, but she first became mayor thanks to the assassinations of fellow supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. That left Feinstein next in line; she was interim mayor for a few days and then was given the permanent job, which she held for nearly a decade.

In 1990, finding she was out of step with increasingly liberal San Francisco, Feinstein took a shot at the California governor's mansion, but lost to Republican Pete Wilson. She then won the special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat that had been vacated by... Pete Wilson. She has been in the Senate ever since, winning five terms of her own. Thanks to her long career representing a very large and very blue state, she's received more votes for U.S. Senator than anyone else in American history, and it's not especially close. Her tally is 34.7 million votes, which puts her well ahead of the #2 person on the list, longtime Feinstein ally Barbara Boxer (D-CA; 21.8 million). If you'd care to guess the next 10, we'll put them at the bottom of the page. Here's a hint: Only three of the next 10 are still serving in the Senate.

Feinstein says she will finish out her term, and will not resign. Her commitment is admirable; we shall see in the next year-plus how practical it is. Yesterday, a reporter asked about her pending retirement, and Feinstein said she hasn't made an announcement about retiring. A staffer had to gently remind the Senator that, in fact, her office had issued a press release a few hours earlier.

Now that Feinstein has made it official, the delicate "let's be polite to a senior member of the Party" dance can stop, and the 2024 campaign can commence in earnest. The almost-certain frontrunner to replace Feinstein will be Rep. Adam Schiff (D). He's already got the endorsement of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and is expected to get Feinstein's backing as well. In other words, the establishment is lining up behind him. Further, California is a state where Donald Trump is rather unpopular (34% of the vote in 2022). Schiff prosecuted one of the two impeachments and was a leading member of the 1/6 Committee. He is about as close as it gets to being a Trump slayer. That will get him a lot of votes.

Next in line, at least for now, is Rep. Katie Porter (D). She's charismatic and has a loyal fanbase. She's also an excellent fundraiser, although she largely emptied her war chest in order to hold on to her seat in the House (Schiff, by contrast, has nearly $10 million in the bank). And, as a general rule, in statewide elections, Californians tend to favor more moderate Democrats over more progressive Democrats. If so, well, Porter is more lefty than Schiff is. That said, because of California's jungle-style primary, it's entirely possible that both of them will advance to the general.

The other Democratic candidate, at least so far, is Rep. Barbara Lee. She hasn't formally declared, but says an announcement is coming. The problem here is that, if she wins, she'd be 77 by the time she was sworn in. The second problem here is that she is nowhere near as well known as Schiff or Porter. Lee's best hope was (and is) for Feinstein to resign, for Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) to abide by his pledge to pick a Black woman for the seat, and for that Black woman to be Lee. She might just have a chance, as an incumbent. But, failing that, she might decide not to run after all.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D) has also expressed interest, though it's not entirely clear to us what his lane would be. He and Porter would probably split the lefty vote, which might actually produce a semi-rarity for California: A U.S. Senate race with a Democrat and a Republican in the general election (only two of the last five have had that).

The two candidates who might really shake up the race, if they were to enter, are Newsom and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. Newsom appears to have his eye on bigger targets, though he said he won't challenge Joe Biden in 2024 if Biden runs for reelection. Since it looks like that is going to happen, Newsom could decide that a Senate seat is a nice platform from which to launch a 2028 campaign. As to Becerra, California has a lot of Latinos. And, unlike any of the declared or semi-declared candidates, he's actually won statewide (he was AG of California, not unlike former California senator Kamala Harris).

As to the Republican side of the contest, it's an absolute wasteland. The GOP bench in California is thinner than the résumé of "George Santos." Yes, there are some prominent Republicans serving in the state's U.S. House delegation, starting with Speaker Kevin McCarthy, but those folks tend to prefer their safe House seats as opposed to tilting at senatorial windmills where they might not even make it out of the primary. There are no Republican officeholders statewide, and none of the Republicans who ran for statewide office in the last few cycles came close to actually winning. Last year, Lanhee Chen supposedly had a chance to become the first statewide Republican officeholder in a decade, and he got crushed by nearly 11 points.

Maybe Chen will be back for another shot, or maybe one of the GOP party leaders in the state legislature will give it a go. But California is a very expensive state to campaign in, and the national party does not want to waste money on a lost cause. So, it's likely the Republicans will end up with the same kind of Senate candidate they usually do these days: a fat cat who can self-fund. (Z)

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