California Democrats Brace for Fierce Senate Battle
But first they will have to endure a contentious and costly intraparty battle, which is already testing loyalties. Nancy Pelosi threw his support behind Schiff on Thursday — should Feinstein decide to retire — and 20 current or former members of Congress from California have joined the former president in his camp. Soon, other members of the state’s massive Democratic leadership class will also be forced to take sides as the candidates seek potentially valuable endorsements.
And given the close relationship between Democrats in the state, this year’s Thanksgiving could get awkward.
“Many of them have served together in the state legislature before – Barbara Lee, Adam Schiff, Mike Thompson – it’s a long list,” said Rep. Jim Costa (D-California), a funder of Schiff. “We’ve known each other for, you know, 20, 30 years. So there are relationships.
There is always the possibility that other high profile candidates could bump the race. In recent days, with the fresh memory of Rick Caruso’s stronger-than-expected performance in the Los Angeles mayoral election, members of California’s congressional delegation have privately discussed the possibility that a wealthy candidate self-funded launches a campaign, although former wealthy wannabes don’t brag about a successful track record.
The money will be essential in the state’s expensive media markets, and Pelosi’s endorsement of longtime ally Schiff has already touched the world of high-profile California donors. The list of funders she brought in spanned the geographic and ideological spectrum: from Southern California to the Bay Area and both longtime members and a relatively new frontline representative. mike levin.
It’s a significant boost for Schiff, who represents the affluent suburbs around Los Angeles. Although he already has a healthy fundraising operation underway in Southern California, Pelosi’s critical cachet around San Francisco could help him lock in donors in the state’s two wealthiest regions. . Schiff already had a head start after a competitive re-election campaign forced Porter to deplete much of his account, and Lee’s fundraising has been relatively paltry.
“Having the biggest, most important Californian in the state” and “someone who is so identified with Northern California politics endorsing Adam Schiff of the south is pretty significant,” said John Emerson, who previously co-chaired the DNC’s Southern California. financial arm.
“Obviously this is going to help from a fundraising perspective. It’s a momentum builder,” Emerson added, noting how supportive Pelosi was of Schiff.
Two Democrats could easily end up in the November ballot under California’s two main primary systems. While Padilla faced a Republican in the 2022 election — and beat him by 18 points — the previous two state Senate races featured four Democrats: current Vice President Kamala Harris against Rep. the time. Loretta Sanchez in 2016 and Feinstein defeating Senator Kevin de León in 2018.
But the contest to succeed Feinstein is relatively wide open. Feinstein was the longtime incumbent and Harris was one of the first and prohibitive to take the seat from incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer, who was elected alongside Feinstein in 1992. Then Padilla was nominated to fill the seat of Harris after she became vice president, giving her an incumbent without the battle of a primary.
In other words, some California Democrats have been waiting decades for a real upper house race. And it could be the first truly competitive U.S. Senate race under California’s first-two system.
“It’s difficult as long as we have friendships,” Rep. Marc DeSaulnier (D-California), who has yet to endorse a candidate but has known Lee and Schiff for a long time. “In a state like California, where you have a large delegation, you have many opportunities to work with each other, get to know each other and become friends, but you have very little opportunity to grow. .”
Some members of the delegation want to see a fully formed field before stepping forward.
“I think most people are waiting to see what the actual full field looks like… But obviously there are some really great people who have already announced,” Rep. Robert Garcia (D-California), a first-term member. And others are awaiting an official word on what Feinstein will do, like Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.), who remains publicly undecided out of respect for the senior senator. But as Padilla’s DC roommate, he admits he’s “constantly asking [Padilla] what he thinks or what you have.
Others, however, fear having too many Democratic candidates. It could fracture the Liberal primary vote, allowing a Republican to qualify for the overall with a plurality alongside a Democratic frontrunner. Progressives fear this will hand over the seat to Schiff, whom they see as a centrist unacceptable to the state.
The Liberals are already calculating how to avoid being excluded from a general election.
“We can’t afford to split the progressive vote and elect someone who takes corporate money and enacts policies that increase suffering,” said Amar Shergill, leader of the California Democratic Party’s progressive caucus. . “There’s a corporate Democratic wing, whether it’s Adam Schiff or Billionaire of the Month. We don’t want people who will follow the company program.
Consolidation behind a candidate will be essential, Shergill said — and that may involve pressuring less viable progressives to drop their campaigns.
“We’re going to come to a point on the calendar – probably late summer, early fall, where there will be one or more progressive candidates in the race, and we’re going to tell all but one of them that they need to give up,” Shergill said.
California’s large bloc of unaffiliated voters could factor heavily into the larger calculation. Many of those roughly five million voters lean toward the Democrats, and their votes could propel a nominee overall — potentially rewarding a call to the center.
At the same time, progressives increasingly unhappy with Feinstein are spurred on by the prospect of replacing her with someone from the left. That energy could benefit the candidate who can tap into the California Democratic Party’s dedicated left-wing base.
“There is, of course, an ideological divide among Democrats. What you’re seeing right now is a strong showing among progressives,” said Assemblyman Alex Lee, who is part of the Legislature’s Berniecrats contingent. “I think it’s a great position to have several strong progressives being considered to run.”