California Rep. Katie Porter announced Tuesday that she would enter the 2024 top-two primary for U.S. Senate even though her fellow Democrat, longtime incumbent Dianne Feinstein, has not yet confirmed that she’ll retire.
Porter, a progressive favorite who has raised massive amounts of money over the last years to defend her competitive Orange County seat, is the first major candidate from either party to launch a bid to replace Feinstein. Almost everyone expects the senator to step aside amidst serious questions about her cognitive health, but because of the vast costs of running statewide in California, Porter may not be the only contender who feels it’s better to get started now rather than wait for Feinstein’s decision.
Porter, who did not mention Feinstein in her kickoff, also launched her campaign by releasing a November poll from David Binder Research arguing that she’s positioned to outpace several of her Democratic colleagues should they run. Under California law all the candidates run on one ballot and the top-two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the general election:
Rep. Katie Porter (D): 30
Rep. Adam Schiff (D): 29
Rep. Barbara Lee (D): 9
A Republican Candidate: 9
Rep. Ro Khanna (D): 6
The poll also finds Porter defeating Schiff 37-26 in a showdown, while another 19% of respondents say they wouldn’t vote; the firm shows that Republicans support Porter 25-5 when forced to choose between the two Democrats, though most of them say they’ll sit the race out.
Schiff, who like Porter also has a massive national donor base, has said he's interested in seeking a promotion should Feinstein retire, though he hasn’t committed to anything yet. Schiff may be able to wait a while because he held a giant $20.6 million to $7.7 million cash-on-hand edge over Porter in late November.
Lee, who is another prominent progressive, has not yet revealed anything about her own plans, though Politico recently reported that she "intends" to get in. Khanna, for his part, said last month he was also thinking about running to replace Feinstein, though he added it was more likely he’d seek reelection. Khanna responded to Porter’s launch by saying he was focused on the serious flooding hitting California, adding, “In the next few months, I will make a decision.”
More names will likely surface soon, especially if Feinstein steps aside. CNN and the Los Angeles Times have already mentioned several other Democrats as possible contenders:
- U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra.
- Attorney General Rob Bonta.
- Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis.
- Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell.
- former Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.
- Rep. Eric Swalwell.
Porter is no stranger to tough races, though this will be the first time she’s competed statewide. Porter, who was a law student of future Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and later worked for now-Vice President Kamala Harris, first sought elected office in 2018 when she campaigned to unseat Republican Rep. Mimi Walters.
Walters’ Orange County constituency, then numbered California’s 45th Congressional District, had backed Hillary Clinton 50-44 after previously supporting Mitt Romney 55-43, but the incumbent very much believed Donald Trump’s toxicity wouldn’t harm other Republicans in this historically conservative area. Porter got past several Democratic opponents in the top-two primary, and she quickly emerged as a strong fundraiser.
Walters continued to deny she was in trouble: In September she even asked the NRCC not to spend money on her behalf, a request the committee was happy to honor. Walters proved to be just as oblivious after Election Day when early vote totals showed her ahead and she started calling colleagues to campaign for the NRCC chair position. Porter quickly took the lead as more ballots were processed and won 52-48 when all was said and done.
The new congresswoman quickly became known in D.C. for using a whiteboard to grill Trump administration personnel and corporate executives at hearings, and her notoriety and massive fundraising helped deter serious Republicans. Porter won 53-47 as Joe Biden was taking her seat 55-43, but she faced a tougher challenge two years later after redistricting left her with a new constituency, now numbered the 47th, that was largely new to her. In 2022 she went through a difficult battle against former Orange County Republican Party Chair Scott Baugh, and this time national GOP groups spent millions to try and sink her.
Republicans bet that the 47th, which had favored Biden 54-43, would snap back to the right with Trump gone, and they were somewhat right: The GOP did considerably better at the top of the ticket here, with Bloomberg’s Greg Giroux reporting that Republican Brian Dahle edged out Gov. Gavin Newsom 50.3-49.7 in this seat. Porter hung on and turned in another 52-48 win months before she kicked off her Senate bid.
What a way to start the new year! On the first episode of season two of The Downballot, we're talking with Sara Garcia, the strategy and outreach manager at Crooked Media—home of Pod Save America—about everything her organization does to mobilize progressives and kick GOP ass. Sara tells us how Crooked arose to fill a void in the media landscape, how it not only informs listeners but also gives them tools to take action, and some of her favorite shows that she loves to recommend to folks.
Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also discuss the Republican shitshow currently unfolding in Congress—and starkly different outcomes in two state legislatures that just elected new House speakers via bipartisan coalitions; the landslide win for the good guys in a special election primary in Virginia; why George Santos faces serious legal trouble that will very likely end with his resignation; and the massive pushback from progressive groups and labor unions against Kathy Hochul's conservative pick to be New York's top judge.