Rep. Ro Khanna opts out of Senate run to succeed Feinstein
Congressman plans to co-chair Barbara Lee's campaign
Silicon Valley Rep. Ro Khanna removed himself from consideration in the race to succeed longtime California Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Sunday morning, opting instead to side with another Bay Area representative in one of the most closely watched Senate battles in years.
Khanna told CNN'S Jake Tapper on the “State of the Union” show that he planned to endorse East Bay Rep. Barbara Lee and work as her campaign co-chair in the 2024 race for Feinstein's seat.
“I have concluded that despite a lot of enthusiasm from Bernie (Sanders) folks, the best place, the most exciting place, the action place, for me to serve as a progressive is in the House of Representatives,” Khanna said on the program, adding that “we need a strong anti-war senator, and she will play that role.”
The move begins to crystalize a once-in-a-generation political battle to succeed Feinstein, who announced her retirement last month after having served more than 30 years in the Senate. While Lee ranks as the most prominent Northern California politician to announce a campaign for the seat, she faces stiff competition from two representatives based in Southern California: Reps. Adam Schiff of Los Angeles and Katie Porter of Irvine.
While Khanna on Sunday said he has “respect” for Schiff and Porter, he sought to spotlight Lee's 25year record in Congress and her “unique voice” while endorsing her bid for the Senate.
“She was the lone vote against the endless war in Afghanistan. She stood up so strongly against the war in Iraq. She worked with me in stopping — trying to stop — the war in Yemen and the War Powers Resolution,” Khanna told Tapper. “And frankly, Jake, representation matters. We don't have a single African American woman in the United States Senate. She would fill that role. She'll be the only candidate from Northern California and she's going to consolidate a lot of progressives.
“The other two are formidable candidates. But I think Barbara Lee is going to be very, very strong.”
The move signals consolidating support in the Bay Area for Lee, who has served in Congress since 1998 and has long been viewed as one of the most progressive members of the Democratic caucus. She was the only member of Congress to vote against the use of military force after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and has since become the highestranking Black woman appointed to House Democratic leadership.
Khanna's decision also highlights the work remaining for him to boost his name recognition elsewhere in the state — even as he wields considerable sway among Bay Area progressives and across Democratic fundraising circles, said Thad Kousser, a political science professor at UC San Diego.
“He's certainly someone with a lot of political promise,” Kousser said. “But this may be a recognition that it's not yet his time to run for a stateside, top-of-the-ticket seat.”
Khanna's endorsement Sunday comes as Lee faces an uphill climb to the Senate seat. Schiff garnered an outsized number of endorsements shortly after announcing his campaign, including from Rep. Nancy Pelosi and from Leon Panetta, who spent time as secretary of the Department of Defense and as director of the CIA.
A recent Berkeley Institute of Government Studies poll of registered Democrats and unaffiliated voters showed Lee facing an early disadvantage against Schiff and Porter.
Twenty-two percent of respondents backed Schiff, while 20% backed Porter. In contrast, Lee garnered support from 6% of respondents, while 4% of respondents backed Khanna.
Still, the UC Berkeley IGS poll also showed fertile ground for each candidate among undecided voters. The largest share of respondents — 39% — said they had yet to make a decision about who to support in the race. Another 8% said they planned to support someone else.