California & USA

Column: Katie Porter opened the California Senate contest.


By launching her bid for U.S. Senate — open, upfront, for all the world to plainly see — Rep. Katie Porter has placed the contest where it belongs: squarely before the voters of California.

Like vultures circling, would-be successors to Sen. Dianne Feinstein have spent years eyeing her seat, convinced she will bow to time and good sense and opt against seeking a sixth full term in November 2024. An announcement on the future of the 89-year-old Democrat is expected by the spring.

For the record:

4:00 p.m. Jan. 10, 2023An earlier version of this column referred to the March 2024 primary. The 2024 primary will be in June.

Meantime, no small number of prospects have been busy lining up staff, working the phones, stroking donors, collecting IOUs, trading political gossip and generally doing everything short of driving an elbow into the ribs of the aged incumbent to hasten a public statement of her intent.

Why the quaint, Victorian notion that those Senate hopefuls should be neither seen nor heard in deference to Feinstein and her plans? The campaign to replace her is in full swing, and has been for a good while. Why not let voters in on the action?

Whatever you think of Porter’s candidacy or credentials — and there will be plenty of time to examine both — credit the Orange County congresswoman with ending the charade.

“I have tremendous respect for Sen. Feinstein and respect her wanting to take her own time” to decide about the future, Porter said in a phone interview after formally declaring her Senate bid Tuesday.

The Democrat made a point of praising the path the former San Francisco mayor blazed for women in politics. But regardless, Porter stated, “If the senator decides to run for another term…. I will still be in this race.”

Porter had good reason to make her first-from-the-gate announcement.

She survived a brutal campaign to win reelection in November, spending much of the $25 million she raised and would doubtless have preferred to devote to running for Senate. One of Porter’s presumed rivals, Democratic Rep. Adam B. Schiff of Burbank, is sitting on a $20-million heap of cash, incentivizing her entry into the contest sooner rather than later.

There is also a tactical advantage to an early start, as Democratic strategist Rose Kapolczynski told the L.A. Times’ Seema Mehta and Nolan D. McCaskill. Kapolczynski ran Barbara Boxer’s successful 1992 Senate campaign, which Boxer began as a long shot even before fellow Democrat Alan Cranston formally announced he would step aside.

“That gave her a head start on organizing and talking to people and being a part of every story about who might run for Senate,” Kapolczynski said.

Porter’s announcement amid the storms battering California wasn’t the wisest political move.

Feinstein responded with a statement reiterating her intention to reveal her plans in good time and stating — one could almost see the arched eyebrow — that she was focused instead on the merciless rainfall and flooding.

Schiff tweeted out a picture of himself, the Capitol dome offering a perfectly framed backdrop, stating he “been calling local, state, and federal” emergency management officials “about the response to the devastating storms impacting our state and how Congress can help.”

Another of Porter’s prospective opponents, Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of Fremont, said he, too, was busy responding to the “historic weather conditions” rather than focusing on the Senate contest. “In the next few months,” Khanna said on Twitter, “I will make a decision.”

All well and good.

If voters don’t care for the timing of Porter’s announcement, perhaps because they consider it disrespectful to Feinstein, or insensitive to those facing nature’s wrath, they can vote for someone else when the June 2024 primary rolls around.

There will most likely be no shortage of candidates from which to choose.

And now that Porter has ended the shadow campaign, there is no more reason for California’s parade of would-be senators to continue playing coy.

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