Who Will Replace Dianne Feinstein in Her California Senate Seat?


The death of Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat, has set the stage for a costly ideological battle to replace a moderate senator who was one of the most monumental figures in California’s political history.

Even before Ms. Feinstein’s death, three Democratic members of Congress had joined the race to succeed her: Adam B. Schiff, 63, a high-profile member of the congressional committee that investigated the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol; Representative Katie Porter, 49, a third-term member of the House; and Barbara Lee, 77, one of the most liberal members of Congress.

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California is expected to fill the vacancy soon with an interim appointment, but he said this month that he wanted that person to be a caretaker until voters decide next year who should represent California in the long term.

Political analysts said Friday that this could set up a sharp ideological battle between Mr. Schiff — who is, as Ms. Feinstein was, a moderate — and either Ms. Porter or Ms. Lee, who are leaders of the liberal wing of the party. But Ms. Lee has struggled to raise money in what promises to be a very expensive contest, and she trails far behind both Mr. Schiff and Ms. Porter.

“I think it’s a two-person race,” said David Townsend, a political consultant based in Sacramento. “I don’t see Barbara Lee raising enough money, and Katie Porter has the progressive side of the electorate.”

“It’s going to be a pretty formidable Senate race,” Mr. Townsend added. “We are looking at two very clear choices.”

For the time being, the death of Ms. Feinstein puts pressure on Mr. Newsom, who will presumably choose someone to fill her seat. (The state is also required to hold a special election to replace Ms. Feinstein alongside the regularly scheduled election involving Mr. Schiff, Ms. Lee and Ms. Porter, but the special election is unlikely to have much bearing on who will serve in the Senate long-term.)

Mr. Newsom, whose profile has risen in national Democratic politics in recent weeks as he has traveled the country on behalf of President Biden’s re-election campaign, had come under fire for announcing he would not pick any of the declared candidates in filling any vacancy, so as not to elevate them and give them an advantage.

Mr. Newsom had originally promised to pick a Black woman to fill the position if it opened up, and many Democrats thought he would turn to Ms. Lee, who is Black. But Mr. Newsom said he would pick a caretaker senator instead. “I don’t want to get involved in the primary,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Ms. Lee denounced Mr. Newsom for that decision, calling it insulting.

Even though California is a deep-blue state, moderates including Ms. Feinstein, Mr. Newsom and Jerry Brown, the former governor, have historically done well in statewide contests.

Of the three announced candidates, Mr. Schiff appears to be in the strongest position. The latest campaign filing reports showed that he had $30 million on hand, compared with $10.4 million for Ms. Porter and $1.4 million for Ms. Lee.

Those figures will be important in the unfolding contest. It could easily cost $40 million to run a Senate campaign in California, where such statewide battles are usually fought across multiple media markets.

Part of Mr. Schiff’s advantage stems from how he raised his stature by clashing with President Donald J. Trump even before the congressman became the familiar face on the dais at the Jan. 6 hearings. Congressional Republicans censured Mr. Schiff in a party-line vote in June over his role in investigating Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia.

Mr. Schiff, who is from the San Fernando Valley, has also won a key endorsement from Representative Nancy Pelosi, the San Francisco Democrat and former speaker of the House.

Ms. Porter, who represents Orange County, has won attention from across the country as a rising liberal star.

Ms. Lee, who is Black and represents a district that includes Oakland, was first elected to Congress in 1988 She has long been one of the most prominent progressive voices in the party; she was the lone lawmaker in Congress to oppose invading Afghanistan after the attacks of Sept. 11.

It is unclear whom Mr. Newsom might turn to for an interim appointment, assuming he goes that route. The names that have been discussed, since Ms. Feinstein said earlier this year that she would not run again, include Shirley Weber, the California secretary of state; Holly Mitchell, a Los Angeles county supervisor; and Angela Glover Blackwell, a civil rights lawyer in Oakland and the founder of PolicyLink, a research and advocacy nonprofit group.

Ms. Weber, for her part, said on Friday morning that she had not spoken to anyone in a position of authority about the possibility, and that she doubted she would want to serve in a time-limited office.

Mr. Newsom had originally made the pledge about choosing a Black woman in response to the fact that there are no Black women serving in the Senate. The last one was Kamala Harris, a California Democrat who left the Senate to become Mr. Biden’s vice president.

At that time, in January 2021, Mr. Newsom picked Alex Padilla, the California secretary of state, to replace her. Mr. Padilla became the first Latino from the state to serve in the Senate; he was elected last year to a full term.


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