Newsom faces tough choice in filling Feinstein’s coveted seat

With Sen. Feinstein's seat vacant, Gov. Newsom faces pressure to appoint a black woman, a promise he made earlier, with implications for Democratic policies in California and the nation.

With the vacant seat of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., all eyes are on the Golden State’s governor for who he will appoint in her place. 

The seat is a highly contested one ahead of the 2024 election, and the governor’s decision will have significant implications for the deep blue bastion that is seen as the poster child for Democratic policies.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, facing pressure to appoint someone quickly as the Democrats’ thin majority hangs in limbo amid an imminent government shutdown, has previously vowed to select a Black woman. He faced criticism after appointing then-Secretary of State Alex Padilla to replace then-Sen. Kamala Harris’s position before she assumed the vice presidency. There are no Black women in the Senate since Harris left, Newsom noted.

He has also previously said he did not want to make a decision to fill her seat if it became vacant. The NAACP told Newsom on Friday, “Now the time has come for you to keep your promise.”


“When you openly promised to appoint an African American woman to Sen. Feinstein’s seat if given the opportunity, the entire African American community in California and around the nation celebrated,” the NAACP stated in the letter, reported by the Associated Press. It was signed by NAACP president Derrick Johnson and Rick Callender of the California-Hawaii conference.

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But Newsom has previously indicated that he wouldn’t pick any of the three candidates vying for Feinstein’s coveted seat should it open up before the election. Three high profile Democrat Reps. Katie Porter, Barbara Lee, and Adam Schiff — but it has yet to be seen if he will reverse course on this. The governor’s office declined to provide comment for this story.

Lee, a Black woman who represents Oakland, California, and one of the three contenders for the Senate in 2024, said she was “troubled” after Newsom indicated he wanted to appoint a caretaker until voters selected the next senator.

“The idea that a Black woman should be appointed only as a caretaker to simply check a box is insulting to countless Black women across this country who have carried the Democratic Party to victory election after election,” Lee wrote on X, formerly Twitter, earlier this month.

Republican James Bradley, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran, is also in the race, alongside more than a dozen other candidates. Newsom, however, is certain to pick a Democrat. 

Another viable replacement could be California Secretary of State, 75-year-old Shirley Weber, a Black woman, appointed by Newsom to her current role in December, 2020. 


In a statement Friday, Newsom offered a lengthy tribute to Feinstein in a statement, but made no mention of successors.

“Dianne Feinstein was many things — a powerful, trailblazing U.S. Senator; an early voice for gun control; a leader in times of tragedy and chaos. But to me, she was a dear friend, a lifelong mentor, and a role model not only for me, but to my wife and daughters for what a powerful, effective leader looks like,” Newsom said. 

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According to polls conducted by UC Berkeley and the Los Angeles Times this month, Schiff is the leading candidate in the primary with 20%, followed by Porter with 17% and Lee and James trailing behind at 7%. The poll featured 6,030 California voters.


The survey also noted that a majority of California voters want Newsom to appoint someone to a full term, instead of only an interim term to complete Feinstein’s term. 

The candidates are headed for a showdown in the March 5 primary, which will launch the top two candidates with the most votes into the General Election. 

California’s top two primary system, also known as a “jungle primary,” means that all candidates for an office, regardless of their party affiliation, appear on a single primary ballot. This means that candidates from all political parties compete against each other in the primary.

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