Declaring that "Californians deserve a strong, progressive leader who has delivered real change," Democratic California Congresswoman Barbara Lee on Tuesday officially announced her entry into the race for Dianne Feinstein's U.S. Senate seat, a contest that's expected to be one of the most closely watched—and expensive—of 2024.
"For those who say my time has passed, well, when does making change go out of style?" the 76-year-old former Black Panther said in a three-minute video announcing her run. "I don't quit. I don't give up. Come on. That's not in my DNA."
Lee said she "didn't quit" when, despite "countless death threats," she was the only member of Congress—the vote was 518-1—to vote against giving then-President George W. Bush "completely unlimited war powers" after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
Lee—who was first elected to represent the heavily Democratic congressional district containing cities including Oakland, Berkeley, and Alameda in 1998—recounted some of her life's challenges and achievements.
"I was the girl they didn't allow in, who couldn't drink from the water fountain, who had an abortion in a back alley when they all were illegal," the Texas native said.
"I escaped a violent marriage, became a single mom, a homeless mom, a mom who couldn't afford childcare, and brought her kids to class with her," she added.
"When there weren't protections for survivors of domestic violence, I wrote California's first Violence Against Women Act," the former California state legislator said.
"When it was legal to discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community, I wrote the Hate Crimes Reduction Act and got a Republican governor to sign it into law," the co-founder of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus added. "When no one wanted to talk about global AIDS funding, I got President George W. Bush to make it a priority."
Lee also chaired both the Congressional Black and Progressive caucuses.
"We have to ease the burden on the middle class. We have to find a solution to poverty and homelessness," Lee asserted in the video. "We have to take on the climate crisis. And we have to stop these MAGA extremists who think they can control people's bodies and dismantle our democracy."
Noting that "there are no African-American women in the United States Senate," Lee vowed that "we won't let that stop us either."
"Because when you stand on the side of justice, you don't quit if they don't give you a seat at the table," she said.
Lee's announcement had been expected for weeks. She joins Democratic House colleagues Katie Porter and Adam Schiff in vying for the Senate seat that will be vacated by Feinstein (D-Calif.), who at 89 is the oldest sitting senator and who recently said she will not seek another term in office.
In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Lee brushed off concerns about replacing an octogenarian senator with a septuagenarian.
" Bernie Sanders is older than myself, and he won California," Lee said of the Independent senator from Vermont who twice ran for president. "It's about speaking to the voters. If Bernie Sanders can win a primary in California, then Barbara Lee certainly can win to be the next United States senator. Come on."
Because Porter and Schiff enjoy a tremendous fundraising advantage over a candidate who has not faced a competitive race in a quarter century, Lee will rely upon a super PAC, She Speaks for Me, that can accept unlimited campaign contributions—even though such organizations are anathema to many progressives.
"The idea is to help level the playing field for someone who hasn't had to raise huge amounts in the past for her races locally and doesn't have the war chest that her opponents have," adviser Brian Brokaw told the Los Angeles Times.
Lee is expected to draw the endorsement of prominent progressive politicians and groups. Meanwhile, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is supporting Schiff, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is backing Porter.