Schiff, Porter open up an early lead over Lee in the race for Senate, poll finds

Representatives Katie Porter, Adam Schiff, and Barbara Lee vie for support in the early stages of the Senate contest to replace Dianne Feinstein.

U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee speaking with attendees at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention at the George R. Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, California.

Luca D'Agruma

The UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies released a statewide poll of the competitive race to succeed Dianne Feinstein, California’s Senior Senator who announced last week she will not seek re-election.

Representatives Adam Schiff (D-West Hollywood), Katie Porter (D-Irvine), and Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) have all announced their candidacies in recent days, and another, Representative Ro Khanna (D-Silicon Valley) has said he is considering running. 

According to the Berkeley IGS Poll, Schiff led Porter 23% to 20%, and Lee trailed with 8% (excluding Khanna). The poll surveyed 5,681 Democrats and No Party Preference (California’s designation for independents) voters, and had a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.

The race is still in its early stages, and a plurality (39%) of voters are undecided. Additionally, Schiff and Porter have significantly higher levels of name recognition and announced their campaigns weeks before Lee. While only 39% of voters have no opinion of Schiff, who gained national attention during his leadership of the televised Trump impeachment proceedings, 49% of voters have no opinion of Porter and 62% don’t either for Lee. 

“The results give good reason to expect a relatively wide-open race,” said IGS Co-Director Eric Schickler, “Since so many voters are unfamilar with the candidates, there is much potential for movement.”

In order to reach the number of voters they need to win, the three candidates will need to raise immense sums of money to become competitive on California’s expensive TV markets and gain the many endorsements from elected officials, issue organizations, and labor unions needed to connected with the many constituencies of California.

Porter, who announced her campaign first with several million dollars in her campaign coffers, has since raised at least another million and has shown to be leading with young voters across all demographics, while Schiff, who announced a few days after Porter, has a $20 million dollar war chest and has raised similar numbers to Porter. Schiff leads among older voters and moderates. Lee officially announced her candidacy on Feburary 21st, several weeks after the other candidates, and entered the race with the least amount of money: less than $100,000. While her campaign has not released any fundraising numbers, she nearly led in the poll among Bay Area voters while having low name recognition statewide.

Schiff leads in the endorsement game, with dozens of California’s congressional members supporting him, including Nancy Pelosi, the former Speaker of the House, and has gained the endorsement of the first union in the race: the IASTE State Council, which represents 40,000 crew members in the entertainment industry. Lee announced a slate of endorsements, which included prominent Bay Area politicians including San Francisco Mayor London Breed and national Black leaders. As the only African American in the race, Lee has appealed to voters with a top interest in representation, and she currently leads among them. 

While in its early stages, the upcoming primary will mean a test of electoral prowess of the three candidates, all of whom have dropped their re-election bids in order to run for Senate, and the new data shows a competitive contest which is expected to develop in the coming months.