The first domino fell in the battle for Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) seat on Tuesday as Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) announced her bid for the upper chamber, kicking off what could become a crowded field and raucous race.
Porter, a House member known equally for her whiteboard and tough questions at committee hearings as she is for her prodigious fundraising, became the first prominent Democrat to enter the race. The move is a likely precursor to a number of other high profile California Democrats of many stripes hopping in.
Reps. Adam Schiff, Ro Khanna and Barbara Lee have all been angling to run in what could turn out to be one of the most contentious contests on the 2024 map, even as it could come down to two Democrats.
“I think there’s plenty of people who could look in the mirror and say, ‘Why not me?’ But there’s a million people in the Capitol who think, ‘Why can’t I be the Speaker or governor,’ but it doesn’t always happen like that,” said Andrew Acosta, a Sacramento-based Democratic strategist.
“Democratic Party politics in California is party politics on steroids.”
In her announcement, Porter, a progressive protegee of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), pitched herself as the “warrior” the state needs in the Senate.
“It’s time for new leadership in the U.S. Senate. … California needs a warrior in Washington,” Porter said. “That’s exactly why I’m announcing my candidacy for the United States Senate in 2024.”
The California congresswoman narrowly nabbed a third term in office in November, defeating Republican Scott Baugh by more than three percentage points in her Orange County district. However, she did so behind a fundraising juggernaut as she raked in nearly $26 million during the cycle. According to an FEC filing in late November, Porter had $7.7 million in cash on hand that she can transfer over to the nascent statewide campaign.
However, the timing of her move raised eyebrows among many political watchers.
Feinstein, 89, has yet to formally announce her own intentions, though she is widely expected to depart at the end of her term. She told the Los Angeles Times last month that she will not retire before the end of her final two years and will officially decide her next steps in the spring.
One sign indicating Feinstein will wrap up her prolific career at the end of this term is her lack of active fundraising. According to her FEC filing in September, she had less than $10,000 in the bank.
In a statement on Tuesday, Feinstein said that her focus was not on politics this week as the Golden State continues to be ravaged by heavy rains and flooding.
“Everyone is of course welcome to throw their hat in the ring, and I will make an announcement concerning my plans for 2024 at the appropriate time,” Feinstein said. “Right now I’m focused on ensuring California has all the resources it needs to cope with the devastating storms slamming the state and leaving more than a dozen dead.”
Similarly, the flooding back home is another reason why Democrats were surprised by Porter’s sudden announcement.
A source familiar to Schiff told The Hill he is “focused on the natural disaster in California and how we can most help.”
“We’re going to launch whenever the best opportunity is for Adam. … It’s going to be a long race, so we’ll go whenever we’re ready to go,” the source added.
Notably, hours after Porter’s announcement, Schiff, who sidestepped a leadership bid in favor of a potential Senate bid, sent out an email solicitation to his fundraising list seeking to raise money for flood victims in the state.
Khanna, similarly, told NBC News, “Right now California is facing severe storms and floods, and my district is facing historic weather conditions. My focus is on that. In the next few months, I will make a decision.”
Across the aisle and across the Capitol, Republicans were excited by news of Porter’s foray into the race as it opened up a key House pickup opportunity for the party. Porter won her seat in 2018 by defeating former Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Calif.).
“My initial thought was: Thanks for giving House Republicans another seat. … It’s a very winnable district with the right candidate and the right environment,” said Lanhee Chen, a Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the GOP’s nominee for California State Controller in November.
Chen himself is unlikely to run for any office in 2024, including for Senate.
The 2024 general election could end up coming down to two Democrats when all is said and done due to the party’s jungle primary system. That format helped deliver victories to Vice President Harris in 2016 and Feinstein in 2018, with Feinstein toppling then-state Sen. Kevin de León (D) by more than eight percentage points.
“It’s going to be extremely exciting because we have so much talent in our state,” former Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) told the Los Angeles Times late last year. “I think there will be a big battle in the primary. It’ll be fabulous.”