SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Two top California strategists have cut ties with the super PAC supporting Barbara Lee’s U.S. Senate bid after she went scorched earth on Gavin Newsom.
Brian Brokaw and Dan Newman — political advisers to the governor — broke from Lee’s PAC, She Speaks for Me, and are siding with Newsom after he was castigated by Lee, according to two people familiar with the decision. Her broadsides came in response to Newsom pledging last weekend to appoint an interim senator — not Lee — should Sen. Dianne Feinstein leave her seat early.
The crackup at Lee’s super PAC is the latest setback for one of the highest-profile progressive candidates of the 2024 elections. A hero to the left for her antiwar voting record, Lee has struggled to break through in a race dominated by better-funded candidates from Southern California.
Lee blasted Newsom for ruling her out, saying she was insulted by the idea that a Black woman would lose the opportunity to get a leg up in the 2024 campaign by way of a gubernatorial appointment. Lee first teed off on Newsom late Sunday after he mentioned the interim move on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” She followed those comments with a primetime appearance on CNN Monday where she again put Newsom on the spot.
“Appointing, quite frankly, someone to hold a seat just until an election is conducted with the commitment not to run for the election is really, truly insulting,” Lee said. “An African American woman, if appointed, should be able to make a decision whether she wants to run or not. She should not be constrained by being told that it was only as a caretaker.”
Such direct criticism of Newsom is rare for California Democrats. He’s among the state’s most popular leaders in the party and wields considerable power at the state Capitol in Sacramento.
Newsom said on NBC that it would be “completely unfair” to the other Democrats in the race — Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter — if he elevated Lee ahead of a primary that’s less than six months away. Feinstein is ailing but has not indicated she plans to leave early, and Newsom told POLITICO in an interview this week that debate over her Senate seat was a “hypothetical on top of a hypothetical.”
Newsom has said he doesn’t think Feinstein will leave early and he hopes he won’t have to make an appointment to replace her.
Brokaw and Newman are not personally close with Lee, and super PACs operate independent of candidates’ campaigns. But their departure widened the blast radius of Lee’s initial response and speaks to the sensitivity around a potential appointment. Several Newsom advisers are working on behalf of not only Lee, but also Porter and Schiff. A third strategist for Lee’s PAC, Nathan Barankin, is expected to remain with the operation.
Brokaw and Newman declined to comment.
In July, POLITICO reported that the trio raised about $1.5 million and were outlining plans to supporters to run TV ads to boost Lee’s campaign. Contributions rolled in from deep-pocketed donors like Quinn Delaney, who runs a foundation along with her husband Wayne Jordan, and Patty Quillin, a philanthropist and the wife of Netflix co-founder and executive chairman Reed Hastings.
Lee remains far behind Schiff and Porter and the PAC is trying to help close the gap with positive messages about her biography and progressive bonafides. The PAC had already cut TV ads anticipated to run soon — focused on Lee’s biography, without mentioning Newsom or her opponents.
Lee in recent days has shaken up her own top campaign brass and embraced a far more aggressive posture not just toward Newsom but also her 2024 opponents like Schiff. Anna Bahr, a Lee adviser, told POLITICO on Thursday that with voters beginning to tune in to the race, the campaign is executing on plans to tell them she’s the most progressive Democrat running.