Adam Schiff’s Unlikely To Be The Last Major Democrat To Join California’s U.S.

During Donald Trump’s presidency, few U.S. House members grabbed more headlines than Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California. Schiff’s lead role in Trump’s first impeachment trial and work as the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee made him a hero to many liberals and a villain to many conservatives. Now Schiff is looking to parlay his notoriety and accomplishments into a promotion: On Thursday, he announced a bid for California’s safe Democratic Senate seat, held by Sen. Dianne Feinstein since 1992. 

While Feinstein hasn’t announced her own plans, the possibility that the 89-year-old might retire has all but guaranteed that Schiff won’t be the only Democrat looking to win the solidly blue seat. Rep. Katie Porter announced her own bid earlier this month, and the field of contenders may only grow: Rep. Barbara Lee reportedly plans to run and Rep. Ro Khanna has publicly expressed interest, too. We wouldn’t normally be this interested in a federal race in a strongly blue state with an undeclared incumbent and a small field (for now), but the developing Senate race in California has a number of wrinkles that will make it pretty interesting, from the primary structure and how expensive the race will be to the state’s geographical and ideological divides.

First, California primaries are set up such that the Senate race could come down to two Democrats. Dating back to 2012, all candidates in California, regardless of party, run on the same ballot and the leading two vote-getters advance to the general election. We don’t yet know how many credible candidates will run from either party, but that could affect who advances to the November election in 2024. Historically, the most likely outcome is that one of these Democrats will meet a Republican in the general election, but that’s not a given: Over the past decade, California’s statewide primaries have sent a pair of Democrats to the general election three times. Of those, two were Senate races: In 2016, now-Vice President Kamala Harris (then California’s attorney general) and Rep. Loretta Sanchez advanced (Harris won the general), and in 2018, Feinstein and then-state Sen. Kevin de León advanced (Feinstein won).

A number of strong Democratic candidates in 2024 could possibly split up the Democratic-leaning vote and the same could fragment the GOP-leaning vote. Over the past decade, Democratic candidates have won an average of 57 percent of the top-two vote across all statewide primaries, compared with the GOP’s 36 percent, so you could have a couple of Democratic candidates win the vast majority of the Democratic primary vote and finish above a splintered field of Republican contenders. In an…

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