Did Gavin Newsom’s Senate Appointment Just Crush Adam Schiff’s 2024 Dreams?

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Mary Lou Masters Contributor
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Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s appointment to fill Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s newly-open seat might just have thrown a wrench in Rep. Adam Schiff’s Senate campaign.

Newsom announced late Sunday that Laphonza Butler, the president of pro-abortion group EMILYs List, will replace Feinstein after her passing last week. Though she had not yet announced her intentions, Butler is eligible to run for a full term next year, leaving Schiff, the current frontrunner in the primary, potentially having to face a formidable incumbent in 2024. (RELATED: Gavin Newsom Chooses Replacement For Sen. Dianne Feinstein)

Butler, who has an extensive political network, would enter the race with an incumbency advantage for the seat that has been held by Feinstein since 1992. EMILYs List, which Butler has led since 2021, is a massive fundraising operation dedicated to electing pro-abortion Democratic women.

The organization has raised $850 million to advance its vision, according to its website.

Butler, who was recently listed as a Maryland resident on a Federal Election Commission (FEC) filing and is registered to vote in that state, previously served as a top advisor to both Kamala Harris and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns. Butler also previously served as the president of the California chapter of the Service Employees International Union, the largest organized labor operation in California.

Schiff is the current frontrunner among several prominent California Democrats that have been vying for Feinstein’s seat since the senator announced in February that she would not seek another term in 2024.

Following Newsom’s appointment of Butler, campaign manager Brad Elkins announced that Schiff’s Senate bid now has $32 million cash on hand, and touted endorsements from California’s Democratic congressional delegation and labor leaders in the state, according to a Monday press release.

“When I say we’re building the largest grassroots campaign in California history — I mean it,” Schiff wrote on Twitter Monday following Newsom’s announcement. “Last quarter we brought in $6.4 million from over 102,000 donors. Our average contribution was just $32. And we’re just getting started!”

Despite Schiff’s impressive fundraising numbers, Butler would be a formidable opponent in 2024 given she could have the financial backing of EMILYs List and other liberal groups and politicians.

Reps. Katie Porter and Barbara Lee are also running in the March 5 primary, along with other Democrats and Republicans, where the top two candidates will advance to the general election in November.

A Berkley IGS survey released Sept. 7 indicates Schiff is the frontrunner of the crowded primary field with 20% support, followed by Porter at 17% and Lee at 7%. Republicans Steve Garvey and James Bradley both received 7% support, followed by Republican Eric Early with 5% and Democrat Lexie Reese with 1%.

Several other polls have Schiff up over Porter by anywhere from 1 point to 5 points, followed by Lee largely in the single digits, according to Real Clear Politics.

Porter raised $3.1 million during the second fundraising quarter, and ended with $1 million cash on hand, according to the FEC filing. Lee garnered $1 million in campaign contributions during the same period, which brought her campaign to $1.4 million cash on hand.

Prior to Feinstein’s death, Newsom told NBC News he doesn’t “want to get involved in the primary,” and that he wouldn’t appoint any of the three Democratic congressmembers to the seat. The governor, who previously said he’d appoint a black woman to the seat, pledged to make an “interim appointment” instead.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: Emily's List President Laphonza Butler address a Biden-Harris campaign rally on the first anniversary of the Supreme Court's Dobbs v. Jackson decision which struck down a federal right to abortion at the Mayflower Hotel on June 23, 2023 in Washington, DC. The campaign event was organized by NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood Action Fund and EMILY's List. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 23: Emily’s List President Laphonza Butler address a Biden-Harris campaign rally on the first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision which struck down a federal right to abortion at the Mayflower Hotel. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“An advocate for women and girls, a second-generation fighter for working people, and a trusted adviser to Vice President Harris, Laphonza Butler represents the best of California, and she’ll represent us proudly in the United States Senate,” Newsom said in a statement Sunday. “As we mourn the enormous loss of Senator Feinstein, the very freedoms she fought for — reproductive freedom, equal protection, and safety from gun violence — have never been under greater assault. Laphonza will carry the baton left by Senator Feinstein, continue to break glass ceilings, and fight for all Californians in Washington D.C.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, a black woman who has been critical of Newsom’s statements on appointing a “caretaker” of the seat, reacted Sunday to the governor’s appointment.

“I wish [Laphonza Butler] well and look forward to working closely with her to deliver for the Golden State,” Lee wrote on Twitter. “I am singularly focused on winning my campaign for Senate. CA deserves an experienced Senator who will deliver on progressive priorities. That’s exactly what I’m running to do.”

Porter and Schiff have yet to directly address Newsom’s announcement.

“I am honored to accept Gov. Newsom’s nomination to be a U.S. Senator for a state I have long called home. I am humbled by the Governor’s trust. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s leadership and legacy are immeasurable. I will do my best to honor her by devoting my time and energy to serving the people of California and the people of this great nation,” Butler said in a statement Monday. “For women and girls, for workers and unions, for struggling parents waiting for our leaders to bring opportunity back to their homes, for all of California, I’m ready to serve.”

A spokesperson for Newsom pointed the Daily Caller News Foundation toward Butler’s office for comment, and maintained it’s her decision to run for a full term in 2024. Schiff, Porter, Lee and Butler did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s requests for comment.

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