Who will replace Sen. Dianne Feinstein? Meet the potential candidates

A triptych of Barbara Lee, left, Adam B. Schiff, center, and Katie Porter, right.
Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee, left, Adam B. Schiff and Katie Porter have all joined the race for Sen. Dianne Feinstein's seat. (Associated Press)

Even before Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a historic force in California politics, announced Tuesday that she would not seek reelection in 2024, ambitious Democratic politicians had begun lining up to replace her.

Feinstein, 89, has been in the public eye for more than a half-century, notably since she became San Francisco's leader after the 1978 assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. In recent years, she has faced mounting questions about her mental acuity and her old-school brand of bipartisanship that is viewed as outdated in today's bitterly divided era. These factors led Democrats to leap into the race to replace her before she announced her intentions — a move that would previously have been considered impolitic.

Many candidates are expected to run, or at least consider running, for her seat. Here are some of the most prominent:

Officially running

Rep. Katie Porter talks to constituents at the Islamic Center of Irvine in 2019.
Rep. Katie Porter of Irvine, shown speaking with constituents at the Islamic Center of Irvine in 2019, was the first candidate to announce her intention to run for Sen. Dianne Feinstein's seat in 2024. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Rep. Katie Porter, 49, Democrat


  • The Iowa native is an attorney and a protégé of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, whom Porter met while taking Warren's bankruptcy law class at Harvard Law School. In 2011, Porter moved to California when she became a law professor at UC Irvine. The following year, then-California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris appointed Porter to be the state’s independent monitor overseeing the state's share of a $25-billion mortgage settlement with banks.

  • In 2018, Porter was elected to represent a swath of Orange County in Congress during a blue wave of Democratic victories across the nation. She was reelected twice, with a narrow win in her last race in 2022. A prodigious fundraiser, Porter was forced to spend a significant amount of money defending her seat.

  • She was the first major candidate to announce her 2024 campaign for a U.S. Senate seat, notably before Feinstein announced her plans.

Best known for:

  • The suburban, minivan-driving single mom is viewed as a rising star in the national Democratic Party, in part because of her pointed questioning of bank executives and Trump appointees and her use of whiteboards to explain complex policies during congressional hearings. Porter also has a knack for social media and creating memorable images that go viral, such as nonchalantly reading a book titled “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F—” during the lengthy House speaker election in January.

Potential obstacles:

  • Some have questioned the wisdom of Porter announcing her Senate campaign before Feinstein publicly disclosed her plans, and while California was being battered by historic, deadly storms.

  • Porter wiped out a substantial chunk of her campaign coffers defending her House seat in 2022, though she is likely able to recoup the money relatively quickly because of her national army of small-dollar donors.

Rep. Adam Schiff of Burbank speaks to reporters at the Capitol in 2019.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff of Burbank, shown speaking to reporters at the Capitol in 2019, has announced he will run for the Senate in 2024. (Shawn Thew/EPA-EFE/Rex)

Rep. Adam B. Schiff, 62, Democrat


  • Schiff was born in Massachusetts and moved with his family to Arizona and then California. He was the valedictorian of his 1978 graduating class at Monte Vista High School in Danville high school, where his classmates voted him most likely to succeed. After attending Stanford University and Harvard Law School, Schiff became a federal prosecutor. Among his most prominent cases was prosecuting an FBI agent who became a Russian spy.

  • Schiff was elected to the state Senate in 1996 and then to the U.S. Congress in 2000.

Best known for:

  • Initially viewed as a mild-mannered moderate focused on national security and foreign policy, Schiff entered the national spotlight during the Trump administration. He led the first impeachment effort against the then-president. He also served on the congressional panel investigating the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 — hearings that culminated in the former president being referred to the Justice Department for possible federal prosecution. Schiff told The Times that these experiences — "fights to preserve democracy” — differentiate him from his Senate campaign rivals.

  • Such public roles have made him a target for GOP lawmakers — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) in January removed Schiff from the Intelligence Committee.

  • Among Democrats, Schiff is a fundraising juggernaut. He had nearly $21 million in the bank in late November and has raised significant money since announcing his Senate bid.

Potential obstacles:

  • As a former prosecutor, Schiff will have to tread a delicate path similar to the one current Vice President Kamala Harris attempted to navigate when she ran for president in 2020 — explaining a prosecutorial background at a time marked by significant concerns among liberal voters about the treatment of people of color in the criminal justice system. As a white man, Schiff faces an additional challenge among some California Democratic voters who hope to diversify the Senate's ranks.

Rep. Barbara Lee speaks on the floor of the House of Representatives in 2020.
Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland, shown speaking on the House floor in 2020, announced Feb. 21 she would run for Senate. (Associated Press)

Rep. Barbara Lee, 76, Democrat


  • Lee has a deep history of political activism, dating back to when she was a student at Mills College. She worked on the 1972 presidential campaign of Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to hold a seat in Congress, and on Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale's mayoral race in Oakland the following year.

  • Lee served as a staffer for Rep. Ron Dellums before being elected to the state Legislature, where she served for eight years. Lee was elected to Congress in a special election in 1998 and has overwhelmingly won reelection since.

  • When Gov. Gavin Newsom pledged during the 2021 recall election to appoint a Black woman to replace Feinstein if she stepped down, political experts speculated that he was referring to Lee.

Best known for:

  • As the only member of Congress to vote against the measure that authorized President George W. Bush to use military force after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Lee was thrust into the national spotlight. She argued that the law granted the president too much power and warned her fellow lawmakers to be “careful not to embark on an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target.” In the aftermath of her vote, Lee was viewed as a pariah by many, including people in her party, and received death threats. But after decades of overseas entanglements, politicians in both parties now make arguments that echo what Lee said in 2001.

Potential obstacles:

  • Lee represents one of the most liberal congressional districts in the nation and has sailed to reelection with little opposition. This was not a problem in her congressional career but could be in a run for statewide office — because of her liberal voting record and paltry fundraising record. Statewide campaigns in California require an enormous amount of money to reach voters across the state, notably moderates if the general election is a race between two Democrats.

Other potential candidates, wild cards and longshots

Rep. Ro Khanna of Fremont speaks at the U.S. Capitol in 2019.
Rep. Ro Khanna of Fremont, shown speaking on the House floor in 2019, is a possible candidate for Sen. Dianne Feinstein's Senate seat. (Associated Press)
  • State Sen. Brian Dahle, 57, Republican: Dahle, a farmer and longtime local and legislative elected official from Bieber, unsuccessfully challenged Newsom in the 2022 gubernatorial contest. While he was able to get California Republicans behind that campaign, he hasn't showed any signs of interest in a Senate bid.

  • Rep. Ro Khanna, 46, Democrat: Raised in Pennsylvania by Indian immigrants, Khanna attended the University of Chicago and Yale Law School. As an attorney, he represented technology companies and was an early supporter of former President Obama. Khanna, from Fremont, was elected to Congress in 2016. He has long had political ambitions and has not shied from challenging fellow Democrats. A favorite of liberal voters, Khanna was a co-chair of the 2020 presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist.

  • Mark Meuser, 48, Republican: The conservative attorney was involved in the litigation that successfully stopped Democrats from removing then-President Trump’s name from the California ballot in 2020. He also repeatedly sued Newsom over COVID-19 policy and other matters. The Pasadena resident unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 2022, secretary of state in 2018 and state Senate in 2012.

Not running

  • Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, 56, Republican

  • Professional wrestler turned actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, 50

  • Gov. Gavin Newsom, 55, Democrat

  • Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, 75, Republican

  • Rep. Eric Swalwell, 42, Democrat

Times staff writer Melanie Mason contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.