Let The Race Begin!

[ Posted Tuesday, January 10th, 2023 – 15:38 UTC ]

The 2024 campaign has begun. Not the big one -- not the race for president, that already started when Donald Trump threw his hat in the ring laughably early, in a naked attempt to avoid justice. Instead, this one is closer to home for me. Representative Katie Porter announced today that she is running for Dianne Feinstein's Senate seat. Which means California may get the first truly open Senate race since 1992 (when Feinstein first got elected). And since it's California, there is no real question of a Republican winning the seat, since they are all but irrelevant out here.

The news comes as somewhat of a surprise for only one reason: the timing of it. DiFi (as I like to call her, for no particular reason) has yet to announce whether she will run for re-election or not. To be blunt: she should not. She is currently 89 years old and she is, not to put too fine a point on it, not exactly compos mentis all the time. It's an open secret on Capitol Hill that Feinstein has degenerated mentally to the point where her short-term memory is all but non-existent. She asks people the same question twice, minutes after asking for the first time. She has already stepped down from leading the Senate Judiciary Committee and the position of president pro tem of the Senate (which would have put her third in line to the presidency, after the speaker of the House), because those around her (Chuck Schumer, in particular) are well aware of her diminished capacities.

To be even more completely blunt: she should already have stepped down. She should not have even run for the term she is serving now. Millions of California Democrats (myself included) were extremely disappointed when she announced she was running again in 2018. If she is mentally unable to do the job, then she owes it to all of her constituents to pass the baton to a younger generation (any younger generation -- Dianne Feinstein was born during the Great Depression).

I am reasonably confident that her staff is not only competently running her office but also that her aides already know pretty much what Feinstein's position would be on any complicated issue. So I'm not too worried about Feinstein doing too much damage in the next two years in the Senate, but even so -- she should either step down immediately (which she won't do) or at the very least announce she is not going to seek re-election, to clear the path for her successor. Her California constituents deserve at least that much.

Katie Porter is the first to announce, but she won't be the only prominent Democrat running. Just for starters, there are actually four House members who are all champing at the bit to move up to the Senate, and from where I sit pretty much any of them would be an acceptable choice. To put this another way, I would find it hard to choose from these four on the primary election ballot. In addition to Porter, there are: Adam Schiff, Barbara Lee, and Ro Khanna. Any of this quartet would be far more progressive than Feinstein. California has changed, politically, since 1992 -- but Feinstein hasn't, on several major issues. So getting some fresh ideas in the Senate is going to be good to see no matter who winds up winning.

Katie Porter would be great. She has made a name for herself on the House Oversight Committee and has created several feisty viral videos from her committees, where she questions top executives from giant corporations and Trump administration officials and absolutely rakes them over the coals. Her whiteboard is the stuff of legend, among those who closely follow politics. And she's got a wonderful gift that not every politician manages to master -- putting incredibly complex issues into very relatable terms, often using props or examples any Joe or Jane Average out there can easily understand. Bill Clinton had this gift, and to a lesser extent so did Barack Obama. Elizabeth Warren does an excellent job as well, which is why it is no surprise that Porter was a student of Warren's at Harvard Law School. She is currently deputy chair of the House Progressive Caucus.

Barbara Lee would also be fantastic. She is about as progressive as one can get, and she is a well-spoken fighter for the causes she champions. In 2001, she was the only member of Congress to vote against the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, which was (to put it mildly) not a popular position to take after the September 11th attacks. She is a former chair of both the Congressional Black Caucus and the Progressive Caucus. She would make an excellent senator for California.

Adam Schiff certainly looks the part of a United States senator, but saying that is just really saying "he's a White male who can managed to appear dignified," since that describes most of the Senate for most of American history. Schiff made a splash on the national stage both with the impeachments of Donald Trump as well as on the House Select Committee on January 6th, both of which made him a direct target of Trump's ire.

Ro Khanna is also a progressive, but he represents a lot of Silicon Valley in Congress, so he's more friendly to capitalism than most (he calls himself a "progressive capitalist"). But he's got the biggest stamp of approval a progressive can get these days, because not only was he a big supporter of Bernie Sanders when he ran for president, several top advisors to Bernie were pushing Khanna to run -- for president, if Joe Biden didn't seek re-election. He is seen by a lot of Bernie World as the heir apparent progressive leader that could take the baton from Bernie. That's a pretty ringing endorsement from the progressive wing of the party, you have to admit.

Those are just the House members who are likely to run. There will be other Democrats on the primary ballot as well -- if it even gets to that. Because the other option that could happen is that DiFi does announce that not only is she not going to seek re-election but also that she will be stepping down, mid-term. This would mean that Governor Gavin Newsom would get to appoint her replacement -- in effect he would get to anoint a winner out of all the hopefuls who are also thinking of throwing their hat in the ring for DiFi's seat. And the most dramatic choice Gavin Newsom could make would be... Gavin Newsom. This isn't all that likely, seeing as how Newsom just started his second term as governor out here, but it certainly would be tempting. Newsom already is playing to a national political audience, heavily trolling the Republican governors of Florida and Texas on a regular basis. If Newsom decides not to appoint himself, though, he would be the ultimate kingmaker for the seat -- because no matter who he named would then get to run as a sitting incumbent senator rather than just a competitor for an open seat.

Again, any of the names mentioned so far would not only be acceptable but would actually enthuse a large part of the Democratic base in California. Seeing some fresh and energetic young senator would be exciting, in the same way DiFi's initial election was exciting (she won in the same year that Barbara Boxer won, meaning California was represented by two women in the Senate for the first time in history).

Californians deserve this change. Some of us have been waiting a long time for it, in fact. Katie Porter obviously just wanted to get her name out there in front of the public before everyone else jumps in the race, but by doing so she has ratcheted up the pressure on Feinstein to announce her impending retirement.

Which is long overdue. So let the race begin!

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


13 Comments on “Let The Race Begin!”

  1. [1] 
    Speak2 wrote:

    Open with an apology to MC that I was going to put at the end of yesterday, but this came out first (I didn't see the MC reply until just now). "them" being the clown, dumpster, etc words.

    "Whoa, MC. Of course I've heard them being used (in fact, some really good clown comic strips have happened).

    Hey, I wasn't seriously going after you there. I thought it a funny way of describing it, is all.

    No offense meant at all."

  2. [2] 
    Speak2 wrote:

    You probably know better than me, but I could only find one instance of two women serving from the same state prior to Boxer-Feinstein.

    It was only one year (Nebraska, 1954).

    The power of incumbency and name recognition is scary.
    You even did a column before her 2018 campaign.

    If I remember right, de Leon was worth voting for.

  3. [3] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    No worries.

    Except for I don’t know if it’s possible to undo any voodoo curse that may have been placed upon one of the parties.

  4. [4] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    I myself voted for DeLeon in his last two races. But he’s D.O.A. for even dog catcher after being caught on tape in a notoriously racist conversation with a couple other Councilmen, I believe.

  5. [5] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    The Senate is going to be tough next cycle. I hope the Dems can continue to hold the line.

  6. [6] 
    Mezzomamma wrote:

    It was exciting and encouraging when Feinstein was first elected to the Senate, which makes it all the more grievous that she did not step down when her mental decline began. (I too voted for DeLeon in the last primary.)

    Will California votes have the problem of choosing from a number of good, even outstanding candidates in the next primary? I certainly hope so. Put me as 'lean Porter' for now, because of the prospect of having the whiteboard in action against the far right of the Senate.

  7. [7] 
    Speak2 wrote:

    MC [4]
    Oh, is he one of that group? OK, then, DOA now and deserves it for certain.

    But 2018, I'd have been with you & MzM voting for him if I was there.

  8. [8] 
    Speak2 wrote:

    Another thing in addition to the power of incumbency.
    In many primaries across the country, unaffiliated voters aren't allowed to vote.
    While there are good arguments to be made for or against that position, it's a bad idea from an emotional investment POV.

    I think there may be that subconscious thing, I voted for this person in the primary and they won. I'm now emotionally invested in them at some level. I'm going to vote for them in the general, for sure.

    Getting unaffiliated voters on board that way has real value (oooh, chase the independents).
    Truth is, many of us (not low-information) unaffiliated voters have strong beliefs and our reasons for not registering for a specific party are varied.

  9. [9] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Gawd, who can choose? I will admit that I’m a Whiteboard Bro, too. But Schiff — how do you tell this Hero “no?” Any of these fellow travelers would be fine.

  10. [10] 
    Mezzomamma wrote:

    Schiff v. Porter would be a difficult choice, but what a choice that would be! If Dems take back the House, Schiff's senior ranking for committees would be very useful, of course.

  11. [11] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Here, for your dining and dancing pleasure, the Lincoln Project’s Last YEAR in the Republican Party. (2:20)

  12. [12] 
    nypoet22 wrote:
  13. [13] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Badgers! And a snake!

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