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Politics & Policy

Rep. Barbara Lee joins race for California US Senate seat

Congresswoman Barbara Lee speaks onstage at Civic Center Plaza during the Women's March San Francisco on Jan. 19, 2019. | (Photo by Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images)

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee on Tuesday formally launched her campaign for the Senate seat held by the retiring Dianne Feinstein, joining two fellow House Democrats in the race in the nation's most populous state.

In a video posted on Twitter, Lee ran through a list of the personal and professional battles she has taken on in her life, including fighting to be her school's first Black cheerleader, championing protections for survivors of domestic violence and being the only member of Congress to vote against the authorization for the use of military force after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"Today I am proud to announce my candidacy for U.S. Senate. I've never backed down from doing what's right. And I never will," Lee said in the video. "Californians deserve a strong, progressive leader who has delivered real change."

Lee, a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, filed federal paperwork last week to enter the campaign shortly after the 89-year-old Feinstein announced she would step down after her term ends next year. Feinstein, the oldest member of Congress, has held the seat since 1992.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Katie Porter, who is known for her use of a whiteboard during congressional hearings, and Adam Schiff, the lead prosecutor in then-President Donald Trump's first impeachment trial, announced their Senate campaigns last month.

The three Democratic candidates occupy much of the same political terrain, so the race could be shaped by other factors that distinguish them.

Lee's district in the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most liberal in the country and includes Berkeley and Oakland. Porter represents a politically divided district in Orange County, southeast of Los Angeles, that was once a conservative stronghold. Schiff's district runs north from Los Angeles and includes Hollywood and Burbank, where he lives.

Lee is the highest-ranking Black woman appointed to House Democratic leadership, serving as co-chair of the Policy and Steering Committee. Schiff and Porter are white. Lee, at 76, is the oldest of the group. Porter is 49, and Schiff is 62.

In a nod to her age, Lee said she was the same fighter she has always been.

"For those who say my time has passed, well, when does making change go out of style?" she said in the video. "I don't quit. I don't give up."

There are no Black women in the Senate, and there have been only two in the chamber's history: Vice President Kamala Harris, who was California's first Black senator, and Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois, who served one term.

None of the candidates has run statewide before. They face the challenge of becoming more widely known, though they each have established political reputations.

Lee and Porter have been leaders in the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Schiff describes himself as a progressive champion but was once a member of the House's centrist Blue Dog Coalition.

Lee has long been on outspoken defender of abortion rights. In 2021, she was one of several members of Congress who shared personal testimony about their own abortions during a congressional hearing.

She became pregnant at age 16 in the mid-1960s. Abortion in California was illegal at the time, so a family friend helped send her to a back-alley clinic in Mexico, she said at the time.

She had no ill effects from the procedure, but she said many other women weren't so lucky in that era.

Democrats are expected to dominate the contest in the liberal state. A Republican hasn't won a statewide race in California since 2006, and the past two U.S. Senate elections had only Democrats on the November ballot.