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Rep. Barbara Lee has announced she's running for U.S. Senate

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A week after California Senator Dianne Feinstein announced that she will not seek reelection in 2024, another hopeful has thrown her hat into the ring for that Senate seat. Congresswoman Barbara Lee from Oakland declared her candidacy today. Lee has been a member of Congress for 25 years and served in the California legislature before that. KQED's Scott Shafer just spoke with her and joins us now. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT SHAFER, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: So what's the case that Barbara Lee makes for being California's next senator?

SHAFER: Well, she definitely talks about her experience, you know, being a legislator for so long in Congress and in the state legislature. But I think the most compelling part of her pitch to voters is her biography, her life experience - you know, growing up in the segregated South, fighting to integrate her cheerleading squad in high school, which she did with the NAACP, you know, being a single mom, attending college while on public assistance. And she spoke with me about why having someone with her background in the Senate matters.

BARBARA LEE: It's important for everyone in California - for the LGBTQ community, for seniors, for the disability community, for people of color, for women, for all of those who really haven't had a champion and a voice.

SHAFER: And Lee also said, of course, she'll be a fighter for all Californians, but those issues are the ones that are really close to her heart - things like food insecurity, child care, poverty. And, of course, she wants to fill a void. There are no Black women in the U.S. Senate, and she thinks there should be, obviously. Many would agree with her. And that's one of the - one of her messages to voters.

CHANG: OK. Well, obviously, Lee is no newcomer to California politics. She's been a career politician with a pretty progressive bent, as you've been talking about. What - given her record, what are sort of the accomplishments while in office that she's known for here in California?

SHAFER: Well, she's long been aligned with the social justice and antiwar part of the Democratic Party, I would say - the Bernie Sanders wing, if you will. But I think one moment, Ailsa, stands above all others, and that was in September of 2001. There was a congressional vote to give President George W. Bush the authority to use force against Afghanistan. That, of course, was where Bin Laden was when he, you know, orchestrated the attacks. And her position was, you know, let's take a deep breath here. Let's not rush into something that could have unforeseen consequences or mire us in a war for a long time. She was the only person in the entire Congress to vote no against that authority.

CHANG: Right.

SHAFER: And that is a vote that has really stood the test of time.

CHANG: Well, Lee is now the third high-profile candidate to jump into this race. Can you talk a little bit about how the field is shaping up so far?

SHAFER: Yeah. So all three are members of Congress from California - three Democrats, two from Southern California. And I think all three would be considered progressives in pretty much any state. You've got Adam Schiff, who's a key ally of Nancy Pelosi. He managed the first House impeachment of President Trump. He's also - was a member of the special House committee that investigated the January 6 attack on the Capitol. He is, I would say, the Democrat Republicans love to hate most.

And then there's also Katie Porter. She flipped an Orange County congressional seat from red to blue in 2018. I'd say she's best known for using her white board to take down corporate CEOs like Jamie Dimon from JPMorgan Chase. She's got a big following on social media, very prolific as a fundraiser, relatively young at age 49. And then you've got Barbara Lee, who has served in the House the longest of those three, but who may be the least well known. And that brings you to money. It takes a lot of money to run statewide in California - $50 million or more. She's not been known as a great fundraiser. So that's really going to be one of her big tests between now and next year, when the election will be held.

CHANG: That is KQED's Scott Shafer. Thank you so much, Scott.

SHAFER: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF KAYTRANADA SONG, "WEIGHT OFF") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Shafer