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Barbara Lee enters hotly contested race for California Senate seat

The race for Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Senate seat is full of Democratic stalwarts, and it will show which political factions hold the most power in California.


Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., has announced her 2024 candidacy for the California Senate seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein

With a win, Lee would become the second Black woman elected senator in the state (after the 2016 victory of the current vice president, Kamala Harris) and just the third in U.S. history. Two other California Democrats, Reps. Katie Porter and Adam Schiff, have also declared their candidacy for Feinstein’s seat

“No one is rolling out the welcome mat, especially for someone like me,” Lee says in a video announcing her Senate bid.

The video lists some of her key accomplishments as a California lawmaker, including her authorship of the state’s first Violence Against Women Act and a 1995 bill targeting hate crimes against LGBTQ people. In listing her accomplishments as a U.S. representative, Lee notes that she was the only member of Congress to vote against authorizing the war in Afghanistan, a fact that has made her into even more of an anti-war hero the more that Americans have discovered that U.S. officials misled the public about the war.

“For those who say my time has passed, well, when does making change go out of style?” the 76-year-old Lee asks in the video.

This race for Feinstein’s seat pits multiple Democratic stalwarts against one another at a time when cultural identity and representation are taking center stage in state politics. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom vowed to appoint a Black woman if Feinstein were to retire during his time as governor. He won’t have that opportunity with Feinstein stepping down at the end of her term. But last year’s unearthed audio of racist rhetoric being used during a meeting involving several Los Angeles City Council members has only increased Californians’ demands for more Black representation at the state and federal levels.

Meanwhile, Porter has built a strong reputation for herself as a fierce interrogator during congressional hearings, and Schiff, a former Blue Dog Democrat, gained a lot of notoriety while helping lead the first and second impeachment proceedings against former President Donald Trump, as well as for his work on the House Jan. 6 committee. Schiff has been endorsed in his Senate bid by former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Prepare for a crash course in political power-brokering. The California race is going to show which factions hold the cards in the most populous state in the U.S.