Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Schiff's Into Gear

The race for the not-as-yet-vacant California U.S. Senate seat just keeps getting more crowded. The latest person to officially throw their hat into the ring is Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who announced his bid yesterday. Now that he's off the House Judiciary Committee, he might as well put all that newly freed-up time to use.

It remains the case that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has yet to give any hint as to what her plans are. The Representative was asked about that during an "I'm running!" media hit yesterday and said that he is great friends with the Senator and that:

[S]he said that she had not made a decision about her own plans, that she would make the announcement when she was ready to do so. I think she's earned the right to do that according to her own timing. But she was more than comfortable with my announcing. I wouldn't be doing that without that kind of blessing. And I want to make sure that everything I do is respectful to her. She has been a giant in this state. She continues to show that as she reintroduced the assault weapons ban. I carry the legislation in the House to strip the gun industry of their immunity from liability. That's another issue that we see very much eye to eye.

It's hard to believe that both of these things can be true: (1) Feinstein hasn't made a decision, and (2) she's totally OK with yet another heavyweight contender jumping into the race.

In any event, it's clear that even if Feinstein does stand for reelection, that's not going to clear the field. The perception, rooted in plenty of firsthand evidence, that she's in cognitive decline means that she's very vulnerable. It's undoubtedly not easy to stand down when you've built your whole life around your political career, and when you're probably not up to some of the fun and/or lucrative opportunities that generally await former politicians (commentator, visiting professor at a university, lobbying, think tank, etc.). But if Feinstein doesn't bow out, she's in for a very rough campaign. If she's not viable, then she risks the ignominy of losing to not one, but two Democrats in the primary. And if she is viable, then she'll face increasingly less subtle commentary on her mental faculties (both as they stand now, and where they would be in 6 years).

Our guess is that she will ride off into the sunset, and that she'll announce that sometime in the next few weeks. As to the three Democrats already in the race—Schiff and Reps. Katie Porter and Barbara Lee—we don't know who the favorite might be, though we will point out a few things. First, Schiff will be 64 on Election Day next year, while Lee will be 78 and Porter will be 50. If California voters want a senator who will be around long enough to gain real power, then Porter's probably the best bet. Rep. Ro Khanna (48), who is also expected to run, would check this box as well.

Second, although Northern California is less populous than Southern California, Northern California politicians have generally gotten the upper hand in statewide elections in the last decade or two. Feinstein, former senator Barbara Boxer, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis (D) and Kamala Harris all built their political careers in NorCal. Schiff and Porter are SoCal folks, while Lee and potential candidate Khanna are NorCal.

Third, Schiff is distinct among the declared and/or expected candidates in terms of exactly how much hatred TrumpWorld has for him. Yes, many Trumpers are not exactly delighted by women and/or people of color. But Schiff was an impeachment manager and has been one of the highest-profile Trump critics of the last 6 years. The former president hates, hates, hates Schiff, as do Trump's devoted followers. In fact, the nasty attacks on the Representative have already started. Former Schiff colleague and current Trump lackey Devin Nunes appeared on Fox yesterday to warn viewers that Schiff is a very bad man, and to make the claim that the Congressman once tried to lay hands on nude photos of Trump. This is a reference to a prank call made to Schiff by a couple of radio hosts in which nude Trump photos taken in Russia were proffered, and Schiff said he was amenable to receiving them. Presumably, he thought that they would be hard evidence (or, perhaps, flaccid evidence) of the various pee-pee stories that have circulated about The Donald.

Trump, as you may have heard, is not too popular with California voters (he lost the state by 30 points in 2016 and by 29 in 2020). So, being the anti-Trump could be what separates Schiff from the crowd. On the other hand, if California's jungle-style primary produces two Democratic candidates for the general election, the Trumpers in the interior and rural areas of the state could coalesce into a sizable anyone-but-Schiff vote.

In short, we can foresee some of the dynamics that could be in play here, but we really have no idea how they will play out. It's going to be quite a barnburner, though, even if everyone already knows that the end result will be a Democratic senator. (Z)

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