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Progressive Katie Porter announces Senate bid amid uncertainty over Feinstein's future

“Especially in times like these, California needs a warrior in Washington. That’s exactly why I’m announcing my candidacy,” Porter said in a video announcing her Senate campaign.
FILE - U.S. Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., speaks during a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing on gun violence on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 8, 2022. This year brings a marquee matchup between Porter, a progressive star, and Republican Scott Baugh, a former state legislative leader and past head of the county GOP, in the coastal 47th District that includes Huntington Beach and other famous surf breaks.
Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., on Capitol Hill, on June 8.Andrew Harnik / Pool via AP file

WASHINGTON — Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., a progressive star who won re-election in November, on Tuesday announced her campaign for the Senate in 2024.

In a video announcing her bid, Porter said she's running because California "needs a warrior in Washington" who would stand up to powerful banking, oil and pharmaceutical interests.

Porter made her announcement amid uncertainty over whether Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who at 89 is the longest-serving female senator, will retire at the end of 2024.

Porter did not refer to Feinstein in her video announcement, but said that “it’s time for new leadership in the U.S. Senate.” By jumping in now — 22 months before the election — Porter is beating some well-funded potential rivals, including Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Ro Khanna, to the punch.

Feinstein, who has increasingly relied on staff as she ages, is widely expected to retire after her current term but has remained tight-lipped on her plans and has said she would not leave early. A spokesperson for Feinstein told the Los Angeles Times last month that she “has no plans to step down and will announce her plans for 2024 at the appropriate time.”

Feinstein had less than $10,000 in the bank at the end of September, according to her most recent campaign finance report, a paltry sum for senior senator in the most expensive state in the country in which to campaign. Senators typically use much of their six-year terms to quietly amass a war chest before their next re-election, so a lack of fundraising can suggest they do not intend to run for re-election

“Everyone is of course welcome to throw their hat in the ring, and I will make an announcement concerning my plans for 2024 at the appropriate time,” Feinstein said in a statement responding to Porter's announcement. “Right now I’m focused on ensuring California has all the resources it needs to cope with the devastating storms slamming the state and leaving more than a dozen dead.”

Feinstein’s potential retirement is expected to set off a mad dash for the seat among members of California’s Democratic bench. Potential progressive rivals appeared to knock Porter for launching her bid during deadly storms that have hit the Golden State.

"I've been on the phone all day with mayors, county supervisors, been in communication with the governor. We are getting hammered by these storms," Schiff said in an interview. "I've talked to the FEMA regional administrator about getting relief to Californians and that's where my priority, my focus is. And I think that's where we should all be focused right now."

Schiff has signaled for months he will run for the Senate. He dropped out of a House leadership race, and in December met with Feinstein to personally inform her of his intentions to run for her seat, said a source close to Schiff.

Khanna, a top ally of Bernie Sanders, told NBC News following Porter’s announcement that he will make a decision about the Senate race in the next few months but is focused on severe rain and flooding in the state that has turned deadly.

“Right now, California is facing severe storms and floods, and my district is facing historic weather conditions," Khanna said. "My focus is on that. In the next few months, I will make a decision."

After House votes on Tuesday, Porter defended the timing of her announcement to reporters: "I'm very concerned about what climate change is doing to California, and these storms are just one example of the urgency in making sure that we have leaders who understand what our country and what California is facing.

"That means people who are not beholden to oil and gas, who understand that we need to have energy sources that address climate change and don't worsen these storms," Porter continued. "So my kids are in California. I'm in touch with them about the rain and watching very closely and hoping that our transit workers, first responders and others are safe during this time."

Porter won re-election to a third term in November against a challenge from former state Assemblyman Scott Baugh, a Republican. Her race for the 47th Congressional District seat in coastal Orange County was listed as a “toss up” by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

Porter proved a strong fundraiser for her campaign in the 2022 midterm election cycle, raising nearly $26 million compared to Baugh, who raised about $3 million, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

An adviser to Baugh told NBC News on Tuesday that the Republican candidate will run for the Orange County district again in 2024, adding that a formal announcement would be coming soon.

“He has been fielding calls of encouragement all morning,” the adviser said.

Porter, 49, has drawn attention for viral videos that feature her sharp questioning of witnesses testifying before Congress. The former law school professor is often seen with a dry-erase board that she uses to list digestible facts and figures to outline her point.

“I don’t do Congress the way others often do, I use whatever power I have to speak hard truths to the powers that be, to not just challenge the status quo, but call it out, name names, and demand justice,” Porter said in her video announcement, which featured a clip of her using a whiteboard during a congressional hearing.

Porter began her first term in Congress in 2019 and serves as deputy chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

CORRECTION: (Jan. 10, 2023, 4:35 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated Porter’s age. She is 49, not 48.