Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) announced on Wednesday that she would be running for Senate in 2024, coming less than a day after Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) threw her hat into the ring.
Rep. Lee, a graduate of both Mills College in Oakland and UC Berkeley for her Masters in social work, began her political career while still at Mills in 1972. That year, she joined the Presidential campaign of then Congresswoman Shirley Chisolm and was one of her delegates at the 1972 Democratic National Convention. The next year she got involved with the Black Panthers and subsequently worked on Panther co-founder Bobby Seale’s 1973 Oakland Mayoral campaign. Following that, she became a longtime staffer for Congressman Ron Dellums before finally running for a position herself in 1990.
That year Lee was elected to the state Assembly and served there 6 years before being elected as a state Senator in 1996. During this time, she became known as one of the most liberal members serving in the Capitol in Sacramento, and was shown to be both very anti-war and stubborn on all progressive issues. In 1998, she was elected to the House in a special election. Following being formally elected in later that year, she has remained Oakland’s main representative ever since, with her district largely being Oakland and most of Alameda County.
In her 25 years of service, Lee has been noted for being one of the most liberal members in the House, with some years being ranked as the most liberal member. In 2001, she gained infamy as the only member of Congress to vote against the Authorization for Use of Military Force 2001 (AUMF), only days after 9/11. This decision caused her massive backlash across the nation and still reduces her credibility during votes involving military forces. She has also been a strong anti-gun advocate, argued against National Park funding being taken away from a Black Panther legacy project, has called for massive cuts to the military budget, has opposed the death penalty, and has routinely voted in line with the Democrats each year well above the 90% line. Since President Joe Biden was first sworn into office, Lee has voted in line with his stated positions 100% of the time.
While her name has come up for Senate and Cabinet positions before, her being so far on the left has largely halted her from moving up in politics. including a failed 2018 attempt to chair the House Democratic Caucus over eventual winner Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), which Lee blamed instead on sexism and ageism instead of what other members later said was a radicalism issue. Despite this, on Wednesday, the 76-year-old Lee made it clear that she would be running for Senate next year against Porter and any other candidates who would announce by then.
Lee enters 2024 Senate race
The announcement wasn’t formal, with Lee only telling colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus that she would be running and have a formal announcement soon.
“I’ll officially announce when it’s appropriate,” said Lee on Wednesday. “Right now, in respect to Dianne Feinstein and the floods and what I’m doing, I’m doing my work. And we’ll let them know when I intend to go to the next step. But now’s the time not to talk about that. I’m not really doing anything except letting colleagues know that there’ll be a time to talk about the Senate race.”
Lee’s announcement on Wednesday was met with a lukewarm reception, even amongst many fellow Democrats.
“She has been a stalwart figure in Oakland for decades, and is very popular there,” explained Bay Area pollster Jessica Yang to the Globe on Wednesday. “However, her being very far-left has often been detrimental to her outside her Congressional district, and she would very likely be the most left leaning candidate in 2024. She also has to worry about her age. A 76-year-old replacing a woman who will be 90 isn’t exactly handing the reins over to a new generation. With many voters concerned about age, especially with Joe Biden in office, this can be detrimental.
“It’s going to be a crowded field in 2024, especially if Feinstein decides not to run again. Lee would need to broaden her message to have a decent chance next year, but considering her history, she might not do that.”
With both Porter and likely Lee now committed to 2024, eyes are currently on Feinstein to see if she will run again, as well as Congressional members Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Ro Khanna (D-CA), both of whom have long been rumored as candidates next year as well.
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