The Times: Essential news from the L.A. Times

Dianne Feinstein calls it a career

Episode Summary

California U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein announced this week she will not run for reelection next year, ending a legendary career that saw her go from San Francisco City Hall to Capitol Hill.

Episode Notes

California U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein announced this week she will not run for reelection next year, ending a legendary career that saw her go from San Francisco City Hall to Capitol Hill. With her upcoming retirement, there’s much speculation as to who will replace her.

Today, we look back at the career of the storied politician and look ahead as to who’ll be running for Feinstein’s seat. Read the full transcript here.

Host: Gustavo Arellano

Guests: L.A. Times political columnist Mark Z. Barabak

More reading:

Sen. Feinstein makes it official: She will retire at the end of her current term

Dianne Feinstein retires: Looking back on tragedy, triumph and her contentious perseverance

Column: Dianne Feinstein is one of California’s greats. Let’s remember her that way

Episode Transcription

Gustavo Arellano: A legendary politician has announced her retirement. 

Dianne Feinstein AP: The time has come. It's not till the end of next year, so don't hold your breath.

Gustavo Arellano: Dianne Feinstein announced this week that she's not going to run for reelection in 2024. 

Dianne Feinstein AP: You know, there’s times for all things under the sun, and, uh, I think that will be the right time.

Gustavo Arellano: As California's longest serving U.S. senator, her swan song marks the end of one of the most consequential political careers in the state's history. 

NEWS CLIP: In 1992, Feinstein made history with Barbara Boxer. The two were elected to represent California in the Senate in what became known as the Year of the Woman. 

Dianne Feinstein: From the earliest days of our nation, women have made substantial and lasting contributions. I don't know why the recognition process has been so difficult, but it has been, and I think the election of women to places of power, like political bodies, has made a difference.

Gustavo Arellano: But even before Feinstein's announcement, the race to fill her seat had already begun 

Adam Schiff: I'm running for the U.S. Senate from California because I think we're in the fight of our lives to preserve our democracy and to build an economy that works for everyone

Katie Porter: Washington’s broken and we are seeing the effects in California right now of that broken system, so we need to send people to Washington who are going to solve problems like this. That’s the best thing we can do to ensure that California and the country are safe going forward.

Gustavo Arellano: In her final years in office, Feinstein faced mounting criticism over whether she was in touch with California voters and even if she could just do the job. So where does that leave Dianne Feinstein's legacy? 

Gustavo Arellano: I'm Gustavo Arellano. You're listening to “The Times, Essential News From the L.A. Times.” It's Friday, February 17th, 2023. Today, the life and times of Dianne Feinstein and the already contentious race to replace her. 

Gustavo Arellano: Here to talk about all this is my L.A. Times colleague and the only person at the paper who speaks faster than me, political columnist Mark Barabak. Mark, welcome to the Times

Mark Barabak: Good to be back, Colonel.

Gustavo Arellano: The obvious first question: Why did Dianne Feinstein decide to announce her retirement now?

Mark Barabak: Well, uh, I think there's two parts to that. The first one is, bowing to reality and age. She's 89 years old. She has been the subject of a lot of reporting about, uh, a notable cognitive and mental decline. And I think, you know, it's funny, Dianne Feinstein — I've covered her for a really, really long time going back when she was mayor of San Francisco and I was a young man — she's never liked campaigning, to be honest with you. 

Gustavo Arellano: Hmm.

Mark Barabak: And I think she realized this campaign would have been brutal. She probably would have lost, and it would've been a sad coda to a pretty remarkable career. Why right now? Because I think the pressure was growing and I think it was the inevitable, The race is already well underway, and I think she just realized that it's obvious what's going to happen. Not gonna run. Let's just get it out there and be done with it.

Gustavo Arellano: That's what really struck me about all this. Like, yeah, Feinstein was already toward the end of her career, but you usually don’t get prominent opponents from one’s own party openly say, “I want the seat of that sitting senator.” Yet with Feinstein, you’ve been hearing that for months now.  

Mark Barabak: You know, Katie Porter, the Orange County congresswoman, jumped in and was the first one to do so.

Katie Porter: California needs a warrior in Washington, and that’s exactly why I’m announcing my candidacy….

Mark Barabak: And I said, you know, good for her. Because the truth is this has been going on for a while. There has been an assumption for a very long time that Dianne Feinstein would not run again, so the people who are lining up to run against her, and some of the folks who have not yet announced have been jockeying for a while now, hiring staff, talking to fundraisers, doing all the things you do when you run for office, but not doing it publicly.

Gustavo Arellano: Yeah, you mentioned Katie Porter, she’s a Congress member from Irvine down in Orange County where I'm at. And another name that has already been out there is Adam Schiff, he’s a Congress member from L.A. County, Burbank specifically. People already say that he has the endorsement of Feinstein, but who are some of the other people who have expressed interest in running for her seat? 

Mark Barabak: Well, and, and to clarify, Feinstein has not endorsed yet. There's been a little bit of winking and a little bit of nodding in Schiff’s direction. The big endorsement he got is Nancy Pelosi. Others who are looking at it: Ro Khanna, a congressman from the outskirts of Silicon Valley, from Fremont; Barbara Lee, very well regarded, very well respected, somewhat iconic, if you will, congresswoman from the San Francisco Bay Area, from the East Bay, Oakland, has not announced but indicated that she's going to run. And then there's all sorts of other names swirling out there. I mean, this is California, so some rich person's going to decide that, “Hey, I could be a senator” So we're, we're still waiting for that, wallet to drop.

Gustavo Arellano: “Mark Zuckerberg for U.S. Senate,” I'm sure. So one of the things that unites at least the candidates that you name: They're all from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. So are we witnessing a new generation of candidates that's essentially pushing out the Feinstein model of candidates, or is this going to be California's own version of “Game of Thrones”?

Mark Barabak: All of the candidates so far who are running are more progressive, if you will. I mean, you know, Feinstein's stock in trade was, bipartisanship. She was a Democrat and she voted 90-plus percent of the time with her fellow Democrats, but she was of a school that believed in bipartisanship, that believed in reaching across the aisle. It was a problem for her politically, but yeah, I think, all the folks who are running, all of them will be to the left of Feinstein. Perhaps, if we're going to put them on a scale Adam Schiff would be the closest, but you know, we're not talking about huge shades of difference between these candidates. It's kind of like, you know, French vanilla, vanilla, and vanilla with a raspberry swirl,

Gustavo Arellano: Oh, you better watch it with the fans of vanilla ’cause they're very particular, I've known that much about them. Was Feinstein, you know, especially a lot of the critics from the Democratic Party make her out to be basically a RINO — Republican in name only. But was she always considered that way? Was she always seen as a centrist?

Mark Barabak: Yeah, there's this thing called “recency bias,” right? People know Dianne Feinstein for what's happened the last few years, which to be truthful have not been very flattering and not terribly impressive. But she has a very long and very distinguished record,  she's a remarkable politician in a lot of ways. But time has passed her by, politically, not just chronologically, but the political age we're in. She is, I hate to use the word, but sort of a relic. 

Mark Barabak: I think the tragedy, though, would be to think of her as nothing but a relic because she is much more than that.

Gustavo Arellano: After the break, we examined Dianne Feinstein's political legacy and how Democrats moved on from her style of politics.

Gustavo Arellano: Mark, Dianne Feinstein has served as U.S. senator now for 31 years, one of the longest runs in California history at the very least. Many Californians, in fact, only know her as a U.S. senator, but how did she get her start in politics?

Mark Barabak: Well, it's interesting because you're right, 31 years, longest senator in California history. But you know, even before she went back to Washington, she had a very long, distinguished and notable career as mayor of San Francisco, as a member of the Board of Supervisors, she was considered and came very close to being named to the uh, presidential ticket in 1984 as Walter Mondale's, vice presidential running mate.

She got her start in San Francisco on the Board of Supervisors. San Francisco has a city/county government, so basically their equivalent of a city council is the Board of Supervisors. Dianne Feinstein served on the Board of Supervisors. She ran twice for San Francisco mayor. There was a a really truly significant one of those, um, hinge points in California and, and San Francisco political history. it was a 1975 election, where Dianne Feinstein was running as the candidate of the center. And there was a candidate of this emergent coalition of gays and lesbians, of Black people, named George Moscone. And then there was a candidate named John Barbagelata, who was the candidate of the old-line, conservative Irish Catholic San Francisco.

Feinstein was the front-runner. Everyone kind of took it for granted, but what happened was she was squeezed out. She lost, Moscone was elected and it was devastating to Feinstein. It was the second time she ran for San Francisco mayor and lost. And she was done with politics. She was ready to quit. She had had enough. She had lost her husband. She was in a really bad place personally, politically. And then of course, tragically, as we all know, George Moscone is assassinated. I literally get goosebumps recounting this.

Clip: Both Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk have been shot and killed.

Mark Barabak: Dianne Feinstein is there in City Hall. Dan White had just shot George Mosconi in the mayor's office. If you know San Francisco City Hall, there's a long hallway between the Board of Supervisors’ offices and the mayor's office. He's running down that hallway. Feinstein yells at him, “Hey, Dan,” and he says something to her, runs into the office, shoots Harvey Milk. Feinstein hears the gunshot, runs in, reaches for a pulse, sticks her finger in a bullet hole in Harvey Milk's wrist, goes downstairs, composes herself, and then that famous scene where she announces to the world the assassination of Moscone and Milk. 

Clip: The suspect is Supervisor Dan White.

Mark Barabak: As president of the Board of Supervisors, she takes over as mayor. I mean, it could have been scripted in Hollywood. It's almost too dramatic, but it's what happened. 

Mark Barabak: She becomes mayor, serves two terms, is a very popular mayor of San Francisco. Uh, you know, again, even then she was a little too centrist, if you will, too moderate for the taste of a lot of folks in San Francisco. But a very distinguished record as I said: considered for the vice presidency; helped save the cable cars, that was a really big deal back then for obvious reasons; and then from there goes on to a run for governor.

Gustavo Arellano: Yeah, I remember that. I was a teenager and I remember that she ran against a U.S. senator at the time, the Republican Pete Wilson. What ended up happening in that race?

Mark Barabak: Well, it's interesting, you know, Feinstein and Pete Wilson were actually very friendly, both politically and on a personal level. The race got pretty nasty and they actually later had a makeup session. But, it was a very close race and, and, you know, at the time, let's step into the way-back machine and remember, California was still a reddish, purpley kind of state. Feinstein made history. She was the first woman to run for governor as the nominee of a major party. She entered that race as the underdog. Everyone, you know, once again counted her out. Everyone thought that John Van de Kamp, the attorney general, the former L.A. D.A, — he was the front-runner, everyone took it for granted. And then, going back to that dramatic moment on, on the steps of City Hall, she produced an ad, which truly is one of the most, I think, impactful political ads ever that opens with that horrific scene of her announcing the deaths of Milk and Moscone, and with this line: “Forged from tragedy.”

Feinstein ad for Governor: Forged from tragedy. Her leadership brought San francisco together. Tough and caring, she pushed for daycare, cracked down on toxics, added police and cut crime 20%. Named the nation's most effective mayor and always pro-choice, she's the only Democrat for governor for the death penalty. She's Dianne Feinstein.

Mark Barabak: And it kind of went from there. Feinstein wins the nomination, and just as a side note, you know, when you're in politics as long as Dianne Feinstein is you collect a certain amount of lore. There was this moment at the Democratic State Party Convention where Feinstein steps to the microphone and gives her speech and announces, “By the way, I'm for the death penalty.” And I was there at that time. I was there just on the edge of the stage, and, the crowd, I should say, boos her, boos her! And one of her political consultants puts his hands together in prayer and looks up and thanks the heavens. It was exactly what they wanted. It was exactly what they wanted. It said to Californian voters, not Democrats, but the large mass of California voters, she's not a crazy San Francisco liberal. Here's a moderate person who you can support. And she came very, very close. Pete Wilson won, but she made a race of it.

Gustavo Arellano: Yeah, and then two years after that, she ran for Pete Wilson's former U.S. Senate seat, and this time she was able to win.

Mark Barabak: She did. John Seymour, he was, uh, someone you may know from Orange County, Anaheim, yeah, Anaheim Hills. state senator. Pete Wilson appoints him to take his vacant Senate seat. Coincidentally, there were two seats that opened that year. Alan Cranston, someone else who served for decades in the Senate, announced that he’s retiring. So in the political shorthand there was the long seat and the short seat. The long seat was Alan Cranston's. Whoever ran for that — turned out to be Barbara Boxer, who won — wouldn't have to seek reelection for another six years. Feinstein, in a little bit of a gamble, ran for the short seat, dispatched with John Seymour very, very handily.

Gustavo Arellano: And when they won, that was ’92 and that was, the media called it the “Year of the Woman” because there was this unprecedented representation now of women in Capitol Hill. And Feinstein, you know, given that she was mayor of a major American city, she was one of the more prominent faces. So what sort of policies did she end up pursuing in the early years of her career as a U.S. senator? Like what did she become known for?

Mark Barabak: Well, you know, it's, it's interesting. There was a lot of speculation about how Dianne Feinstein would do as a U.S. senator. There's a great line from, uh, a dear late colleague of mine, Susan Yoakum. She used to say she ran the city with her hands around it and her nails dug in. I mean, she was a very detail-oriented micromanager, if you will, used to being in charge. OK, so put her in a body with a hundred other people, all of whom think, you know, they're God's gift to politics. How's she going to function? Um, very well, as it turns out. She turned out to be a very good negotiator. She turned out to be a very good legislator. Just, pick one issue, you know: the big, beautiful Joshua Tree monument, the open space we have in the desert, the land that's been preserved. That was Dianne Feinstein. There was a desert bill. I mentioned Alan Cranston, he had worked on it for years and years and years, stalled, didn't get anywhere. Feinstein came in and, and she brought that home, so she passed the desert bill. Another very landmark achievement early in her career was an assault weapons ban. 

Dianne Feinstein AP: The women of the United States Senate and the House of Representatives joined forces today to speak on behalf of the mothers, the grandmothers, the sisters, the wives and the friends of people needlessly killed every month by weapons of war on the streets of our cities.

Mark Barabak: Obviously a very personal issue for her, having had a front seat on gun violence. 

Dianne Feinstein AP: If we don't have assault weapons as part of that bill, we capitulate to every gang drive-by shooter, to every grievance killer out there.

Mark Barabak: Sadly, we've forgotten, mass shootings have become so commonplace, but there's this horrible one on, uh, I believe it was 101 Market Street. It was a horrible mass shooting in San Francisco, so she was very, very motivated on the gun issue and worked and managed to wrangle 60 votes to pass that law. For 10 years, the United States had a ban on assault-type weapons, and statistics show mass shootings went down. That was 1994, it was passed. The only way she could get the vote she needed was to agree to a 10-year sunset. Ten years passed, George W. Bush is in the White House, he puts no capital behind it, the assault weapons ban lapsed.

Gustavo Arellano: So she got the historic weapons ban and she became a major figure in the Senate just because, you know, you’re a U.S. senator from California, but also because she was one of the most prominent female politicians in the country. What other causes did Feinstein champion with that momentum?

Mark Barabak: You know, interestingly for a pioneering woman politician, you know, Dianne Feinstein, she was always a little ambivalent about that title, that role, if you will. I mean, just being there, she was a trailblazer and a glass ceiling shatter and all those sorts of things, so she was an important voice on women's issues, but she was also an important voice on abortion.

Dianne Feinstein AP: I very much regret that abortion has become such a political issue. Um, I believe very strongly that we should control our own bodies in connection with our faith and, um, medical ethics.

Mark Barabak: She was a very important voice on defense and foreign policy, and some people will tell you the most significant thing she did was, on the Intelligence Committee.

Dianne Feinstein: Today, a 500-page executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 5½-year review of the CIA's detention and interrogation program, which was conducted between 2002 and 2009, is being released publicly.

Mark Barabak: The so-called torture report, basically exposing the CIA's practices involving torture, involving kidnapping, all those sorts of things, working with John McCain working, it should be set against a Democratic administration. 

Dianne Feinstein: Over the past couple of weeks, I've gone through a great deal of introspection about whether to delay the release of this report to a later time. This clearly is a period of turmoil and instability in many parts of the world. Unfortunately, that's going to continue for the foreseeable future, whether this report is released or not.

Mark Barabak: The Obama administration didn't want it to come out. It did. And as a result, our policies were changed. Some people will will say that was her crowning achievement. And, and that just goes to show, I remember I was back in Washington for a few years during the Clinton administration, and I can tell you I knew people who worked in the administration and they would tear their hair out. Feinstein would drive them crazy because she was never a sure vote. She was never a sure vote.

Gustavo Arellano: And what was that torture, uh, investigation about?

Mark Barabak: Well, it was about what they called, I think the words they used were “extraordinary rendition.” It was during the quote unquote war on terror where the CIA would kidnap people, they would waterboard them, they would torture them, those sorts of things. And they wanted to keep it secret. And Dianne Feinstein, again, fighting first the Bush administration then the Obama administration, issued a massive report that detailed all that and led to reform, and pushed back, as I said, against both parties to do so.

Gustavo Arellano: So everything you've described so far about the achievements of Feinstein's career sounds pretty liberal to me. But then in 2016, after Trump won and the ideology of the Democratic Party really shifted to the left, it seemed that Feinstein was just left behind, so how did her politics during the Trump administration mesh with the rest of the Democrats?

Mark Barabak: In a few words, not terribly well. I mean, you know, one thing that happened when Donald Trump came in was people were angry and they wanted to push back and they didn't want to in any way be seen as giving any quarter, and Dianne Feinstein got in some trouble politically. She appeared at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, and I'm, paraphrasing off the top of my head, but basically said, let's give Donald Trump a chance.

Dianne Feinstein: I think we have to have some patience. Um, I do, I mean, it's eight months into the, into the tenure of the presidency.

Mark Barabak: You know, I'd like to try and work with him. Maybe he can end up being a good president. Which in fairness, there were a lot of people who thought that he would, how many times did we hear the P-word — pivot — right? He's going to pivot, he's going to become presidential. Well, he never did, but there was a lot of hope that he would do so.

I mean, through it all, Dianne Feinstein has always been a believer in bipartisanship and pragmatism. And pragmatism grew out of fashion. And the other thing is performative politics had become sort of the coin of the realm, right? It's the viral moment, it's the snappy tweet, it's that sort of cut and thrust that a lot of people want.

They're less interested in digging in. They're less interested in compromising, they're less interested in taking half a loaf. You know, they don't want to take half a loaf, they want to burn the toaster and, and the whole kitchen down, right? Forget about the half-loaf. And so Dianne finds it, it was not just chronological thing, it was pages on the calendar coming off and totaling up to 89 years. It was the passage of a certain style of politics that left Dianne Feinstein behind.

Gustavo Arellano: And the nation really got a sense of just sort of what was going on with her during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings for his nomination to the Supreme Court in that was in 2018. I remember just how furious so many Democrats were about how either what Feinstein was doing or allegedly not doing.

Mark Barabak: Yeah, she was very much caught in the middle of that. I mean, just to recap, as they say, she heard from a constituent who had came forth, a Stanford professor, who talked about Brett Kavanaugh having, uh, assaulted her when they were together in high school. Feinstein didn't come forward with it at first because she wanted to protect the identity of  Christine Blasey, who obviously has since been revealed as the individual.

Tarana Burke #MeToo movement: People shouldn't have to be forced out of and to tell their story. And so if she asked for privacy, I understand why Sen. Feinstein decided to respect that privacy.

Sen. Lindsey Graham: I'm really upset if Dianne Feinstein believed this was a credible allegation that you wouldn't do, uh, Mr. Judge Kavanaugh the service of saying, “I've got this. What's your side of the story?”

Sen. John Cornyn: We could have addressed this in a way that respected Dr. Ford's privacy so it wouldn't necessarily even become public unless she wanted it to.

Mark Barabak: So it's interesting because we talked about Dianne Feinstein being elected in the Year of the Woman, which followed the infamous Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings. And in a lot of ways you fast forward — and Dianne Feinstein, it should be noted, was the first woman who ever went on the Senate Judiciary Committee, I think in large part a response to the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearing — so fast forward: Here she is on the committee and we're going through again, this sort of, he-said, she-said political drama, which really captivated the country in a way, again, very reminiscent of the Thomas-Hill hearings, and Dianne Feinstein was right square in the middle of it. It was a constituent of hers, Christine Blasey Ford, who talked about an alleged assault on her by Brett Kavanaugh when they were both in high school. Dianne Feinstein did not come forth with that information. It dribbled out. She was criticized for withholding that information. And then she was criticized for giving credence to the information by letting it come out. So she kind of got it coming and going both ways around the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. 

And then we fast forward to the Amy Coney Barrett hearing, where, I mean, in something that still has a lot of folks' heads scratching. She hugged Lindsey Graham, literally embraced him and said what a great set of hearings they were. And let's be clear to give that a little bit of context: it was like, three weeks before the presidential election, you know, after the Republicans and Mitch McConnell had refused to give a hearing to Merrick Garland, saying we need to wait for the presidential campaign. All of a sudden they were ready to rush this through. 

Gustavo Arellano: In 2016

Mark Barabak: Yeah, in 2016. All of a sudden, in 2020, they were ready to rush this through. Feinstein sort of gives it the stamp of approval by hugging Lindsey Graham. For a lot of the people that was not just the last straw, that was like the whole haystack.

Gustavo Arellano: Yeah, that was 2020. And by then, I mean she had won in 2018 her reelection for the U.S. Senate seat, but she didn't have at that point the endorsement of her own party.

Mark Barabak: No, not surprisingly. She ran against Kevin De León and beat him rather handily. But you know, by 2020 and by the time of the Coney Barrett hearing, there had already been a lot of rumblings about Dianne Feinstein, about her mental cognition. And there were a lot of people who just sort of put — whether it added up to four or not, they sort of put two and two together and said, wow, here she is hugging Lindsey Graham, I mean, she's just not all there. And, and it should be said, I mean, I, I don't know about you, I’ve personally dealt with people who, who've dealt with cognitive loss and they have good days and they have bad days. And I think that's very much the case with Sen. Feinstein. You know, you fast forward to the Ketanji Brown hearings, she actually acquitted herself quite well during those hearings. Well enough that I, I did a column suggesting that, you know what, just back off, let her finish, you know: Maybe she's not all that she was, but good enough is good enough. But the point being, like a lot of folks, she seemingly has good days and bad days, and I guess the Lindsey Graham embrace was a very bad day.

Gustavo Arellano: Were those arguments about her competence? Were they valid or was it sexism or ageism? Because I know you see this always when you get these really older politicians. I'm remembering from the past, Robert Byrd from West Virginia, Strom Thurman, and they got some criticism. But for me it just seems there was a lot of swirling speculation about Feinstein that I never really saw with some of the men from the past. 

Mark Barabak: Yeah I, I see what you’re saying and I understand people who suggest that. Because you’re right, people like Bob Byrd, people like Strom Thurman, who were, you know, wheeled into the Senate chamber, and I think at the end they were actually like, you know, picking up, uh, Strom Thurman's hand and pushing on the button that he needed, so I get that point. You know, and there is a comparison to be made. You know, Chuck Grassley, the senator from Iowa, is I believe something like two months and 12 days younger than Dianne Feinstein — so essentially he's the same age — was just reelected overwhelmingly in Iowa, didn't even have much of a contest. So sure, you could point to that and suggest there's sexism at work, but I think voters are practical. And I think people looked at Chuck Grassley, a guy who made a point about talking how he does calisthenics and runs four miles. I don’t know if it's every morning or two or three mornings a week, there has never been the same kind of questioning. And not just questioning, but, but examples that people could see for themselves of a cognitive decline, of a physical decline that we saw with Dianne Feinstein. Didn't see that with Chuck Grassley. So sure, I understand why people might make that case, given our history, but I think if you look at what voters had to go on, personally, I don't see sexism or ageism at work.

Gustavo Arellano: So you could say that Feinstein's political career is ending with a whimper, not as a bang. How does that affect her legacy?

Mark Barabak: Well, look, I'm not a cheerleader for Feinstein. I will say I've covered her, like I said, for 30 plus years, and I will tell you we've had, we've had, we've had our ups, we've had our downs. I've been in and out of her doghouse a lot of times. But I respect her. 

She's not ending on a great note, but I think if you look at her career in its totality, she truly is one of the most meaningful and consequential lawmakers that California's ever put in political office.

Gustavo Arellano: After the break, the upcoming race. 

Gustavo Arellano: Mark, regardless of what one thinks of Sen. Feinstein in recent years, her retirement's got to leave a really big hole to fill. So the way her career is ending, what does that mean for the race to replace her in 2024?

Mark Barabak: Well, it means that, uh, people can stop tiptoeing around. Not that they were very much, but she's now made her plans clear. Everyone can with her, uh, blessing go forward and campaign. I mean, we should point out as we've mentioned, you know, it's very rare that Senate seats come up in California.

You know, Feinstein held that one for 31 years. You know, Barbara Boxer, who was elected as we mentioned in ’92, kept it for 20-plus. So, we've got a couple heavyweights. I think if, if, if you're a fan of politics — which I know, you and I are, Gustavo — it's, it's going to be a terrific race. To, forgive the, you know, obvious pugilistic metaphor, but it's going to be, you know, at least two heavyweights, uh, slugging it out with, uh, you know, a few others in the ring. I don't know, maybe you should turn it into tag-team wrestling or something, right? You can't have more than two people in the ring, so heavyweights, wrestling,

Gustavo Arellano: Unless it's a royal rumble,

Mark Barabak: It's going to be a, yeah, it's going to be a rumble.

Gustavo Arellano: Yeah. No, I, I, I like all the sports metaphors here. You mentioned already some candidates. Who do you see as a front-runner right now?

Mark Barabak: Boy, that's really tough. That's really tough. I would say the front-runners, plural, uh, would have to be Adam Schiff, the congressman we mentioned from Burbank, and, and, and Katie Porter, the congresswoman from Irvine, simply because, look, I think Barbara Lee's going to have a tougher row to hoe. She's 76 years old. Uh, I understand part of her is to say we need representation. As a Black woman, she would bring that to the Senate, saying she would only serve one term, sort of a transitional figure. But you know what, it wasn't that long ago that we were talking about Jerry Brown and Nancy Pelosi, and Boxer and Dianne Feinstein — all people north of 70. So, you know, that argument might be a little more saleable if we hadn't just gone through this whole notion that wow, we've had a lot of people hang in there for a really long time. It's time for some turnover. So for that and, and the fact that, uh, Katie Porter and Adam Schiff have both shown themselves to be very, very prodigious fundraisers, and we both know how important money is in California politics, I think as we sit here today, you’ve got to put those two as the front-runners.

Gustavo Arellano: So you see it's going to be very competitive.

Mark Barabak: Yes, I think it's going to be very, very competitive simply because you know, we’ve got a couple of serious political heavyweights running.

Gustavo Arellano: Any Republicans you see running? I mean, we've had you on before about what a laughingstock the Republican Party is in California, but do you see any of them or even an independent candidate trying to run, or maybe former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger?

Mark Barabak: To speak directly to that, Arnold Schwarzenegger has said that he's not going to run. Uh, I suggested earlier in, in the program that I wouldn't be surprised to see some rich person decide that, “Hey, I should be a senator because this is California, and that's kind of how we roll.” You know, might a Republican run? Brian Dolly who ran against Gavin Newsom might run. I mean, they may look at it as a “Why not? What do you have to lose?” kind of thing. Maybe lightning strikes, maybe somehow, um, I mean, if you want to sit here and, and, and, you know, game this thing out, could you see theoretically where Schiff and Porter and Barbara Lee and maybe another Democrat would split the vote and so a Republican could sneak in?

I mean, if a single Republican runs and could consolidate and get 32, 35%, would that be enough to get them into the top two? Sure. It's plausible. I think, I mean, I'm, I'm loath to make predictions. I, I wouldn't be surprised if, if we saw, Porter and, and Schiff both advance and, and we have a Democrat on Democrat runoff in, uh, November of 2024. But, you know, if you're a Republican, it, it may be kind of like, uh, you know, what the heck? Why not? What do you got to lose?

Gustavo Arellano: Or maybe Rick Caruso runs.

Mark Barabak: I'm glad you brought that up because I was talking to someone yesterday and that name came up. So, yeah, Rick Caruso's name is definitely in the mix.

Gustavo Arellano: The, the billionaire developer who ran unsuccessfully for, uh, mayor's race in Los Angeles. So you said it's probably going to be them against them because California has, um, what do they call 'em, jungle primaries?

Mark Barabak: Jungle primary, top-two primary. The bottom line is everyone runs on one ballot. We don't have anymore a Democrat running for the nomination, a Republican and then other parties and then all those folks, going at it in, uh, November. We have a top two, whichever two folks who are running who get the most votes, the top two, they advance regardless of party

Gustavo Arellano: So if it's likely going to be two Dems, what sort of policy or ideological differences are the candidates going to have? Like, what's going to set them apart?

Mark Barabak: I think, you know, there's not a huge amount of difference. I mean, I don't want to upset your ice cream fans again, but going back to my vanilla analogy, right? 

Gustavo Arellano: Use chocolate …

Mark Barabak: OK, OK, what, well, what, what do you have? I, I'm not an ice cream eater. So what do you have …

Gustavo Arellano: Dark chocolate, milk chocolate …

Mark Barabak: Dark chocolate, milk chocolate. Dutch chocolate. OK, you got those three choices…

Gustavo Arellano: German.

Mark Barabak: German chocolate. OK, here's the thing. Any one of these folks who are running will probably vote 90-plus percent of the time Identically, right? It's not like you have the pro-choice Democrat running against the pro-life Democrat or the, you know, stop offshore drilling Democrat versus the drill baby drill Democrat, right? There aren't a lot of huge distinctions amongst these folks when it comes to issues. There are some, and I promise you, they will do everything they can to blow up these differences into huge, huge, huge differences between them. But the fact is all of them are basically somewhere closely clustered together on the Democratic spectrum.

So what's the race going to be about? It's going to be about personality. It's going to be about, quote unquote, character. It's going to be about performance. It's going to be about, “I'm a warrior,” says Katie Porter versus “I'm a fighter,” says Adam Schiff. And I promise you, and we've already seen signs of this, it's going to be very, very nasty, because you know, if you can't disagree on issues, what do you do? You talk about personalities. And I think, I think it's going to be: a) expensive, b) very personal and c) pretty nasty.

Gustavo Arellano: Finally Mark, a U.S. Senate seat from California, like most things from California, it comes with a certain amount of influence nationwide. I mean, and former U.S. senators include Richard Nixon, current one, uh, Kamala Harris, the vice president. Do you see Feinstein's replacement eventually getting that same type of power or even that influence that Feinstein and these others wielded?

Mark Barabak: I, I think they could, I mean, not, not to pick on poor Barbara Lee, but you know, she only serves one term. it's kind of hard to, to accrue that kind of clout in, in a single term. But, you know, Porter and Schiff, just to name those two, are both relatively young by political terms, right? I mean, they're ancient in sports terms and Hollywood terms, but in political terms they're spring chickens, so they could stick around for a while and become very, very influential. And you know, I think you will see them, once they are in the Senate, start being mentioned by the great mentioners, you know, as potential presidential prospects in, you know, ’28 or ’32 or ’36 or beyond.

Gustavo Arellano: Mark, thank you so much for this conversation.

Mark Barabak: Thank you for having me.

Gustavo: And that’s it for this episode of “The Times, Essential News From the L.A. Times.” 

David Toledo, Kasia Broussalian and Ashlea Brown were the jefas on this episode. It was edited by Jazmin Aguilera and Heba Elorbany, and Mario Diaz mixed and mastered it.  

Our show is produced by Denise Guerra, Kasia Broussalian, David Toledo and Ashlea Brown. Our editorial assistants are Roberto Reyes and Nicolas Perez. Our fellow is Helen Li. Our engineers are Mario Diaz, Mark Nieto and Mike Heflin. Our executive producers are Jazmín Aguilera, Shani Hilton and Heba Elorbany. And our theme music is by Andrew Eapen. 

I'm Gustavo Arellano. We'll be back Monday with all the news and desmadre. Gracias.