CA Senate Race Adds New Contender

The open California Senate race promises to be one of the most interesting campaigns in the 2024 cycle.

It’s very likely this contest’s most important phase will end even before the other key Senate races begin.

The all-party jungle primary is scheduled for Super Tuesday, March 5th. California is one of five states that will consolidate their down ballot nomination races on this early date. The others are Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Texas. At Super Tuesday’s end, we will see not only key presidential primary results, but nominees or finalists chosen in two Senate races (Texas and California, respectively) and 115 US House contests.

Most of the California Senate race political coverage has concentrated on Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), Katie Porter (D-Irvine), and Adam Schiff (D-Burbank). Earlier, when pressure was exerted upon retiring Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) to resign because of her health situation, it was believed that Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) might be inclined to choose Rep. Lee as the interim replacement. At this point, it doesn’t appear that the Senator’s resignation will be forthcoming, so the focus is back on the open seat campaign.

Now, a newcomer is joining the race. Wealthy former Google executive Lexi Reese (D), who says she will spend some of her own fortune on the open statewide US Senate race, is the new entry in the March 5th all-party primary. In all, 27 candidates have now announced, but only about five, including the House members and Ms. Reese, are considered credible.

The tech executive’s path to claim one of the two positions in the qualifying election, necessary for advancing into the general, is obviously narrow. Since she faces the three sitting US Representatives, the chances of her winning the general election are virtually nil, but peeling off enough votes in the March 5th election to potentially allow a Republican to sneak past the Democratic field and clinch a general election ballot slot becomes more plausible.

Among the ten announced Republican candidates, attorney Eric Early, a former statewide candidate, appears as the most credible and the one most likely to consolidate the preponderance of GOP votes. Stories broke several weeks ago that baseball great Steve Garvey may join the Senate race as a Republican, but nothing regarding such a candidacy has yet materialized and probably won’t come to fruition.

Polling has been sparse to this point, but the data that has been released shows no clear leader. The most recent survey, from Emerson College, was conducted in early June. It found no candidate even reaching 16%, as Reps. Schiff and Porter recorded just 15 and 14% support, respectively. A previous poll actually produced the scenario where the major Democrats split the vote relatively evenly and Republican Early corrals a right-of-center coalition that forges him into the lead.

While it is clear that at least one of the three US Representatives will be eliminated in March, there is a distinct possibility that two congressional careers end on Super Tuesday.

The addition of Ms. Reese, because she appears to have at least some ability to spend money and take a share of the Democratic vote, particularly in the Silicon Valley region where she is known, could well cost one of the major candidates such as Mr. Schiff or Ms. Porter their opportunity to advance into the general election campaign. This assumes that Rep. Lee will not be as viable by the time the primary votes are cast.

Therefore, the March 5th stakes become even higher, and is now clear that the early phase of this campaign is quickly coming to a close. While most of the Super Tuesday media attention will be devoted to the presidential race, this open California contest will also be a significant electoral footnote.

The Democrats will ultimately hold this Senate seat, and the all-party jungle primary on March 5th will likely be definitive in determining which party member will succeed Sen. Feinstein. The veteran politician who was first elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1969 will leave Congress at the beginning of 2025, thus completing her iconic career as the longest serving current Democratic Senator. 

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