Feinstein’s Seat

The rules are a bit complicated.

California 2024 Senate race to replace Dianne Feinstein. Barbara Lee, Adam Schiff, and Katie Porky

Most news reports have focused on California Governor Gavin Newsom’s pledge to appoint a caretaker Black woman to fill the seat of the just-departed Dianne Feinstein ahead of the 2024 election. San Francisco’s KQED (“Here’s why you’re likely to vote 4 times on Feinstein’s replacement“) notes that it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Senator Dianne Feinstein’s death late Thursday comes as the campaign to replace her is already underway – and puts Gov. Gavin Newsom in the hot seat as he weighs who to pick as her replacement. 

But whomever Newsom chooses, they probably won’t be in Washington, D.C. for too long. Voters will be asked next November to choose someone to finish out the final months of Feinstein’s term.

On the same ballot, California voters will also pick a candidate to fill the seat for the full term that begins January 3, 2025. Feinstein announced in February that she wouldn’t run for reelection in 2024, setting off a race for that seat.  

Newsom has promised to appoint a Black woman to the seat left vacant by Feinstein’s death. He has not indicated who he will choose. But earlier this month he made clear that he will not name Oakland Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who is running along with Orange County Representative Katie Porter and Los Angeles Congressman Adam Schiff.

That means Newsom’s appointee would promise to serve as a caretaker – and would likely step down after the November 2024 election.

So, California voters will likely vote four times over the next year on Feinstein’s Senate seat: Twice in the March primary, and twice in November. The special and regular Senate elections will appear next to each other on the ballot. 

The winner of the special election will serve for less than a month: from when the election is certified in December 2024 until the new Senate term begins in January 2025. The winner of the regular Senate election will serve a six-year term beginning in January 2025.

Presumably, since the same voters will take part in the primaries and elections, this is mostly procedural. I can’t imagine why they would select a different person for the interim job than the permanent one.

FILED UNDER: 2024 Election, US Politics, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jay L Gischer says:

    We just did this with Boxer/Kamala Harris’ seat. It was a bit odd seeing the same seat twice on the ballot, but eventually it made sense.

  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    Californians have an embarrassment of riches. Schiff is great, Porter is great, Lee is great. Lee is the oldest at 77, Schiff is (by the standards of the Senate) a youthful 63, and Katie Porter is a kindergartener at 49. I tend toward Schiff on the grounds that the hide-bound Senate won’t give Porter the freedom to be her inimitable self.

  3. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    I used to make a habit of watching the BBC News “100 Days” reports on US politics.
    (Sadly been dropped, in another example of BBC editorial incompetence.)
    Saw quite a bit of Schiff; have a slight inclination to move to California and take up US citizenship just for the pleasure of voting for him.
    The interesting thing, from a damn furriners POV, was that the Democrat reps and senators, from various categories from “blue dog” to “radical progressive”, came across as, generally, as impressively smart, clued up, articulate and reasonable.
    Republicans, with some few exceptions, not so much.

  4. DK says:

    Schiff is my representative. We are very proud of him. We will be happy to send him to the Senate.

    Give em hell, Adam!

  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    Schiff was my rep till a few months ago. I donated some money to his first race. He called me on the old land line when I was living in Evanston and asked what I thought he should focus on. I said, be a good Democratic Congressman. And he did.