Adam Schiff was everywhere during the Donald Trump years. From investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential Trump-Russia ties on the House Intelligence Committee, to prosecuting the case to impeach Trump for his pressure on Ukraine to dig up Joe Biden, or to interview witnesses for the Jan. 6 commission, Schiff has been a ubiquitous face of anti-Trump Democrats for much of the past decade.
Now, fresh off the committee he once headed, he is running for the California Senate and answering Rep. Katie Porter’s call for a progressive Senate showdown in one of the nation’s most liberal states. His run will become a test of the resilience of the Trump-inspired rage of the past six years.
“When a dangerous demagogue tried to undermine our democracy, I wasn’t about to let him,” Schiff says in a video kicking off his Twitter campaign. “After all of this, I wish I could say the threat of MAGA extremists is over. It’s not.”
Our democracy is in great danger. Because GOP leaders care more about power than anything else.
And because our economy isn’t working for millions of hard-working Americans.
We are in the fight of our lives, a fight that I am ready to fight as the next United States Senator from California. pic.twitter.com/H0Pa0EhhMu
— Adam Schiff (@AdamSchiff) January 26, 2023
Schiff enters an area that could become more crowded. Porter was the first California Democrat to announce her campaign earlier this month, launching a contest that appeared to be on hold until current incumbent Senator Dianne Feinstein decides to retire. Feinstein, the longest-serving Democrat in the Senate today, would be 91 if she ran again in 2024 and is expected to retire; she hasn’t officially done so yet, however.
Other California members of Congress are still considering races: Northern California Representative Barbara Lee reportedly told her Congressional Black Caucus colleagues that she was preparing to run, while her compatriot, the representative of the Bay Area, Ro Khanna, is still deciding.
Some of Porter’s early days progressive endorsers have already hit back at Schiff for not being progressive enough and for previously accepting PAC money from “Big Oil, Big Pharma, payday lenders and Wall St banks”. Other Criticisms California progressives reveal one of the central tensions of Schiff’s fledgling campaign: How to mount an attractive primary race when its greatest asset is a backward-looking appeal to anti-Trump, #Resistance-era nostalgia instead of an agenda forward-looking supported by a record of advocacy in Congress, like Porter, Khanna and Lee.
The California Senate race will be a battle over ideology, representation and memory
The Democrats who eventually run will have to find ways to distinguish themselves, given that they all occupy space on the left flank of the Democratic Party.
Lee is an old-school, anti-establishment liberal whose name is widely recognized in the Bay Area. Khanna has made a name for himself more as a technocrat and brat in tech, antitrust and economics, and co-chaired Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign. Porter comes from the Elizabeth Warren path party. But Schiff’s identity in Congress has been shaped by his connections to the establishment.
A member of the New Democrat Coalition in the House, he is not as left-leaning as some of his rivals, but he is not a centrist and has occupied a lane as a fairly standard liberal Democrat, frequently supporting the increase defense spending, support for Israel, and freedom of the press abroad.
Schiff may not have to rely too much on those parts of his resume, especially with Trump’s third presidential bid underway. Porter’s internal polling shows Schiff will likely be his biggest challenge, easily clinching a spot in the general election (California’s open primary system moves the top two voters in the June primary to a general election, regardless of left).
That’s not to say Schiff will head for the general if the field gets crowded. To succeed, he will need to make inroads with the state’s working-class Latino, Black and Asian voters, and win over Northern California progressives and college-educated white voters who will likely form the bulk of the support. of Porter. Unlike Porter and his other potential opponents, who are both people of color, Schiff will not be able to appeal for personal identity or representation. A win for him would also be a loss for gender representation in the Senate, where nearly 70% of members are white men.
The state’s racially and ideologically diverse population will make it one of the most competitive races in 2024. Although Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly twice in the state, the success of progressive candidates is not not guaranteed, which Schiff could possibly capitalize on if he can appeal to the many moderates that make up the general electorate. Despite its portrayal in popular media as a crazy state with ultra-progressive, college-educated ideals, California is not among the states with the highest percentage of college-educated residents.
That means finding a message that resonates with Democrats of various ideologies, education levels, and identities. Whether it is a message focused on defending democracy and resisting Trump will be confirmed over time. At least one star of the Trump years has already turned that message into political power: Dan Goldman, the lead attorney in that first Schiff-led impeachment trial, won in a crowded field of progressives and liberals running in the 10th District of the New York Congress. primary Democrat and is now a member of Congress.
But winning in an electorate of 750,000 New Yorkers is one thing. Convincing a plurality of 27 million eligible California voters is another.