Longtime California Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) has thrown her hat in the ring to become the next Senator from California, vying for Dianne Feinstein's seat in what may become an uphill battle. Today, the New York Times shines a light on "one of the strongest glass ceilings in American politics," which has kept most Black female candidates from rising to the upper echelons of government.
Rep. Barbara Lee, 76, has served Oakland in Congress for over two decades, having been elected in 1998. As the Times notes, there were 11 Black women in the House at that time, but only one in the Senate — one-term Senator Carol Moseley Braun (D-Illinois). The only other Black woman ever to serve in the Senate was Kamala Harris, and for this reason, when it came time for Governor Gavin Newsom to appoint her replacement, there was significant pressure to put another Black woman in the seat. Instead, he chose loyal friend Alex Padilla, who satisfied another longtime gap in California's political representation, Latinos, who make up a larger share of the state's population than whites and yet there has never been a Latino Senator representing the state until now.
There are now 28 Black women in the House, including just-elected Virginia Rep. Jennifer McClellan — the first Black woman ever to represent the state in Congress — but zero in the Senate.
"It is absolutely shameful that we do not have a Black woman in the Senate, especially given the contributions of Black women to this country," says Stefanie Brown James, a co-founder and senior adviser at the Collective PAC, speaking to the New York Times. Collective PAC works to elect Black candidates, and James tells the Times, "For Black women to win [races], the money has to come early, and it has to come often, and it has to come in competitive amounts."
Fundraising was one of the first topics to arise when Rep. Katie Porter (D-Orange County, announced her candidacy for Feinstein's seat in early January. Porter already has the endorsement of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a PAC that might also be inclined to support Lee. Both Porter and Rep. Adam Schiff, who is also running for Feinstein's seat, are considered to be on stronger fundraising footing for what's expected to be a very expensive and competitive Senate race, but that may change. (Porter has won two recent, very competitive races in a purple county, while Lee has been virtually unopposed in her congressional runs for years.)
As the Times notes, the only Black women to get major party nominations in the last cycle, all four of them, were from Southern states. And despite Democrat Val Demings raising $81 million to take on Sen. Marco Rubio — who only raised $51 million — she still lost that race.
The Times also points to North Carolina Democrat, Cheri Beasley, who raised twice the amount of money raised by her Republican opponent, but she also lost.
The thing that could give Lee the boost she needs would be if Feinstein were to vacate her seat earlier than the end of next year, as she currently plans — which would open the door for Newsom to appoint Lee, if he so chose, making her an incumbent in next year's race.
Top image: Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) speaks as House Democratic lawmakers hold a press conference to oppose restrictive abortion laws and support women's health care at the U.S. Capitol on July 28, 2022 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health case overturned the 50-year-old Roe v Wade case and erased federal protection for abortion. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)