As Gov. Gavin Newsom deliberated over the weekend over whom he will appoint to the Senate following the death Friday of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, supporters of Rep. Barbara Lee mounted a campaign on her behalf and the governor’s staff worked to combat criticism that he will pick a short-term caretaker for the coveted post.
“If that person decides she wants to seek a full term in 2024, then she is free to do so. There is absolutely no litmus test, no promise,” Newsom spokesman Anthony York told The Times on Sunday.
However, mounting a successful statewide campaign just six months before the March primary election, when other candidates have been fundraising all year, would be a formidable challenge. While incumbency is a powerful force in elections, there is no guarantee that Newsom’s appointee will be a viable candidate.
The Democratic governor pledged in 2021 to appoint a Black woman should Feinstein’s seat become vacant. But he has been under fire ever since announcing plans earlier this month to make it an “interim appointment.”
Newsom said it wouldn’t be fair to pick someone who’s running in the 2024 race that is already under way. But Lee and her supporters said Newsom should pick her — the most prominent Black person running.
Lee, of Oakland, is one of three Democratic members of Congress in the race. The others are Reps. Katie Porter of Irvine and Adam B. Schiff of Burbank, who are white. The U.S. Senate has not included any Black women since California Sen. Kamala Harris stepped down in 2021 to become vice president.
Since Feinstein died on Friday, Lee’s supporters have have mounted an aggressive campaign calling on Newsom to change his stance and tap her.
“The most qualified person on day one to fill the legacy of Sen. Dianne Feinstein is none other than Congresswoman Barbara Lee,” Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Rep. Steven Horsford said Sunday in an interview with MSNBC.
The caucus also sent Newsom a letter making the case for Lee, and Horsford said he had talked to Newsom about it by phone and in person.
“We’re asking him to understand the moment of this appointment not only for the people of California, but for the people of the United States,” Horsford said.
With Democrats’ slim majority in the Senate, Newsom is under pressure to name his pick quickly.