Regardless of whether Dianne Feinstein retires mid-term, her seat will be up for grabs in 2024. Republicans haven't won a statewide election in California since 2006. Nevertheless, they could end up affecting who wins the 2024 Senate election in the Golden State. In Nov. 2022, Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA) got about 60% of the vote to Republican Mark Meuser's nearly 40%. Currently there are three serious Democrats in the race, Reps. Barbara Lee, Katie Porter, and Adam Schiff. One Republican, the appropriately named Eric Early, is in so far, but more could join. In scenario 1, if the three Democrats split the 60% evenly, each getting 20%, then Early could finish first in the jungle primary and face whichever Democrat came in second. That Democrat would easily win, but it would mean the primary determined the final winner. On the other hand, if more Republicans enter and split the Republican vote, then the two top primary finishers could be both Democrats, who would then duke it out in November 2024.
In scenario 2, the general election likely comes down to Porter and Schiff, who are by far leading Lee in fundraising. In this situation, the 40% of voters who are Republicans will almost certainly play a big role in deciding the winner. After all, there will be potentially winnable House contests as well, so few Republicans will stay home. It is possible that the Republicans will go for Schiff, who is not quite as progressive as Porter, as the lesser of two evils. On the other hand, since Schiff led the first impeachment of Donald Trump, the Republicans might go for the progressive Porter, just to punish Schiff. Who knows?
Porter's team is already gaming out multiple possible scenarios. In particular, they are worried that Schiff's large money advantage ($25 million to $10 million as of March 31) and his backing from Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), will cast him as the frontrunner and if scenario 1 comes to pass, the whole show will be over on Super Tuesday, when California will hold its primary. Clearly it is to her advantage to get more Republicans to enter the race, in order to split the Republican vote and cause scenario 2 to happen. But does she want to tell her donors to give to some Republican to entice him to run rather than give to her? Does she want to remind everyone how Schiff led the first Trump impeachment? That could make him radioactive to Republicans but might help him with Democrats. Another approach is to try to become the #1 Democrat in the polls now, to counteract Schiff's image as the frontrunner. The most recent poll put Porter and Schiff in a virtual tie. While the Democrats will surely hold the seat, the question of which Democrat will join Padilla in the Senate is very much up in the air.
Oh, and one other complication. Gavin Newsom has promised that if Feinstein retires early, he will appoint a Black woman to her seat. That could be Lee, which would give her campaign an immense boost. On the other hand, doing that would really annoy the supporters of Porter and Schiff, and he has also said he doesn't want to take sides in the Senate race. Consequently, if Feinstein retires early, Newsom might pick Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), who is currently 84 and is not running for the Senate. She has been in the House over 30 years, and this would be a nice capstone for her congressional career. Waters is also from the more populous southern part of the state, whereas Lee represents Oakland and Berkeley in the north. In addition, Waters is more fiery than Lee, which would help shore up Newsom's support on the left. But, of course, if Feinstein won't budge, the choice of her successor is irrelevant. (V)