Skip to content

Rep. Barbara Lee defeated in California Senate primary

Veteran advocate for progressive causes unable to get one of two November ballot spots

Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee did not capture one of the two spots on the November ballot in Tuesday's primary for an open Senate seat in California.
Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee did not capture one of the two spots on the November ballot in Tuesday's primary for an open Senate seat in California. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

After more than a quarter century of advocating for progressive values in the House, Rep. Barbara Lee will leave Congress in January after losing her bid for Senate.

The 77-year-old Democrat from northern California war running fourth in a 27-candidate field seeking two nominations for the seat left open by the death of Sen. Dianne Feinstein last year when The Associated Press called the race for second-place finisher Steve Garvey at 12:01 Wednesday morning. Fellow Democratic Rep. Adam B. Schiff had been called the winner of the top spot around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday.

A one-time aide to the late Rep. Ronald V. Dellums, Lee was first elected to the 12th District seat in 1998 and has faced minimal opposition in one of the nation’s bluest districts, where she typically ran up vote totals topping 80 percent. 

In the House, she rose through the ranks to become the highest-ranking Black woman in Democratic leadership and was a longtime hero of the American peace movement because of her lone “no” vote against a resolution authorizing President George W. Bush to use “all necessary and appropriate force” to retaliate against the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Lee was the target of death threats and received hate mail, but says she never regretted her stance.

Lee’s Senate run received the backing of several powerful groups on the left, including the California Working Families Party and the Congressional Black Caucus PAC, but she could never find her lane in a race dominated by two of her fellow House Democrats — Reps. Katie Porter and Adam B. Schiff — who both had national platforms and far bigger campaign accounts.

“She’s a very principled person but her base of support is narrow,” said Jack Citrin, professor of the graduate school political science department at the University of California, Berkeley. “And the narrowness of her base, really, made it impossible for her to win.”

Early results showed Lee running fourth, behind Schiff, Porter and Republican Steve Garvey, a former first baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres. The two winners who advanced in the all-party primary to the November election had not been called before Lee conceded the race.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the November race for the Senate seat Solid Democratic.

Recent Stories

House passes $95.3B aid package for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan

Senate sends surveillance reauthorization bill to Biden’s desk

Five races to watch in Pennsylvania primaries on Tuesday

‘You talk too much’— Congressional Hits and Misses

Senators seek changes to spy program reauthorization bill

Editor’s Note: Congress and the coalition-curious