Dianne Feinstein’s Retirement Kicks Off a Democratic Free-For-All for California Senate

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Senate’s oldest member and the longest-serving woman in Senate history, announced she would not seek reelection in 2024.


Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Senate’s oldest member and the longest-serving woman in Senate history, announced she would not seek reelection in 2024, kicking off a Democratic free-for-all in deep-blue California.

  • Feinstein, 89, has served in the Senate since her first election in 1992, the so-called “Year of the Woman” that saw four women simultaneously elected to the Senate for the first time. Before the Senate, Feinstein was the first woman elected Mayor of San Francisco and was a finalist to be Walter Mondale’s running mate in 1984.
  • During her time in the Senate, Feinstein was a key sponsor of the 1994 assault weapons ban and was the lead senator behind the investigation into allegations of CIA torture of enemy combatants in the years after 9/11.
  • Feinstein’s retirement will open the floodgates for ambitious California Democrats seeking a promotion – and some Democrats didn’t wait on Feinstein to announce their plans.
  • Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter both launched their Senate campaigns before Feinstein’s announcement.
  • Progressive Rep. Barbara Lee is considered likely to mount a Senate campaign and would be the second Black woman elected to the Senate from California after Kamala Harris. Rep. Ro Khanna is also considering a bid, as are Republicans Brian Dahle and Mark Meuser, who have both lost statewide elections in recent years.
  • The Senate primary seems likely to cleave along “ideological, generational, regional, and racial divides” within the California Democratic Party, the dominant party in America’s most populous state.
  • Porter and Schiff have both earned national profiles among #Resist types for their aggressive actions opposing former President Donald Trump, while Lee has a longstanding progressive record dating back to her opposition to the War in Afghanistan in 2001.


reporting from the left side of the aisle


  • In the Daily Beast, Eleanor Clift urged readers to not let Feinstein’s career be overshadowed by her decline in recent years. Clift wrote, “From the moment she arrived in Washington in 1992 as a “new Democrat,” she quickly carved out an important role as a centrist forged in local city politics who could find compromise among competing factions within her party and across the aisle.”
  • Politico’s Jeremy B. White outlined the moments he believed would define Feinstein’s legacy. Feinstein’s rise to power began after she took over as mayor after the assassination of San Francisco’s mayor in 1978,  which would eventually lead to her first Senate win in 1992. Her time on the Hill would be defined by her push for an assault weapons ban in 1994 and the Senate inquiry into allegations of torture by the CIA after 9/11.
  • The New York Times chronicled the key moments of Feinstein’s career in photos, beginning with her first public office as a member of the California Women’s Board of Terms and Parole. More pictures illustrate her tenure as mayor, the “Year of the Woman” in 1992 all the way up to the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings in 2018.



  • Fox News reported Feinstein appeared unaware of her own retirement announcement on Tuesday. According to reports from Capitol reporters, after she told reporters she hadn’t made up her mind on her future, “a Feinstein staffer quickly notified the senator that a statement had already been made on her retirement, prompting her to say she was unaware the information had been released.”
  • The Wall Street Journal noted that only two currently serving senators have longer tenures than Feinstein, Sens. Chuck Grassley (since 1981) and Mitch McConnell (since 1985). Feinstein’s three-decade-plus tenure has made her the 46th-longest-serving senator in the history of the institution and could be the 35th-longest-serving senator should she finish out her final term.
  • Breitbart observed Nancy Pelosi didn’t wait until Feinstein announced her retirement to make her preference known. Earlier in February, Pelosi endorsed Schiff with the qualifier that he would only have her support if Feinstein retired – but even then, the writing was on the wall.


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© Dominic Moore, 2023