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Who’s Waiting in the Wings?

Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein are challenging Fidel Castro for political longevity. But someday they’ll bow out. Who’s likely to replace them?


Editor's Note: This is one of many stories about politics that San Francisco is publishing over the next month, all part of the October 2016 Democracy Issue. To peruse the rest of the issue's contents, and to read stories as they become available online, click here.

Seventy-six-year-old congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and 83-year-old senator Dianne Feinstein are going strong. But when the time comes for California’s two grandes dames to step down (75-year-old senator Barbara Boxer has already announced her retirement), who will replace them?

Feinstein’s seat is likely to be chased by “whoever loses the Senate race between Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez and whoever loses the governor’s race in 2018,” says Ethan Rarick, associate director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley. Ben Tulchin, head of the polling and strategic consulting firm Tulchin Research, agrees, stressing that if Feinstein retires when her seat is up in 2018, “people running for governor might switch to [running for] Senate, especially if they don’t think they can win or the race is too crowded.” Current gubernatorial contenders include Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom and State Treasurer John Chiang, with former L.A. mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and current mayor Eric Garcetti also plausible candidates. But, Tulchin points out, DiFi may get the final say. “If Democrats win back the Senate, that gives Dianne less reason to step down. She can keep running, and she’s probably going to win if she runs.”

Hypothesizing who might replace Pelosi to represent the 12th Congressional District (most of San Francisco) is more difficult, namely because the city’s two political superstars, Harris and Newsom, are already fighting for seats of their own and are favored to win. That leaves a short list of others, including outgoing state senator Mark Leno and the city supervisors vying to replace him, Jane Kim and Scott Wiener. “[State assemblymember] Phil Ting and [State Board of Equalization chair] Fiona Ma would also be strong contenders if they wanted to run for Congress,” adds Tulchin. But it could be another decade before Pelosi leaves office. That leaves the field open to a slew of potential candidates, including Kim, Board of Supervisors president London Breed, and Bay Area billionaire Tom Steyer. Like Feinstein, Pelosi may hold out on retirement until she feels the right successor has come along, says Tulchin. “No one’s going to beat her, and no one’s going to challenge her. So it’s up to her.”


Originally published in the October issue of San Francisco 

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