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Sen. Laphonza Butler Will Not Run for US Senate Seat in 2024

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A person with long hair and wearing a blue sport coat stands in a room under an ornate ceiling.
Sen. Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.) attends a news conference at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on Oct. 4, 2023. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Updated 4:30 p.m. Thursday

In a surprise move for many watching California’s hotly contested U.S. Senate race, recently appointed Sen. Laphonza Butler said Thursday she will not run for a full term in 2024.

Butler, a former labor leader and Democratic strategist, was appointed to the Senate seat earlier this month by Gov. Gavin Newsom, to fill the remainder of a term left open by the death of Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Her announcement was an unexpected twist in the state’s marquee political contest.

“Knowing you can win a campaign doesn’t always mean you should run a campaign,” Butler said, in her statement. “I know this will be a surprise to many because traditionally we don’t see those who have power let it go. It may not be the decision people expected but it’s the right one for me.”

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Butler could have run as an incumbent in the March 5 primary, where she would have joined a competitive field that also includes Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff, Katie Porter and Barbara Lee, along with Republicans Eric Early and Steve Garvey, the former baseball star.

In addition to having more name recognition, the three high-profile Democratic candidates are months ahead when it comes to campaign war chests. Since January, Schiff has raised $21.5 million, Porter $22.1 million with Lee trailing with $3.3 million raised. Still, that head start in fundraising may have posed a challenge for Butler.

Butler, who previously helmed SEIU California, the state’s largest umbrella union, has strong labor connections that may have afforded her an advantage in a race where close relationships with unions could provide an advantage. And in her recent role leading EMILYs List, she was often a voice of encouragement for women weighing whether to run for office.

But Butler told FOX 11 in Los Angeles last week that concerns for her own family and the “divisive nature of the harassment” would play a role in deciding whether she would run.

“My mother is 70 years old, she didn’t sign up for this. My daughter is 9, she didn’t sign up for this and so I’m thinking about my family and my family’s safety,” Butler said. “I have already gotten my first piece of hate mail and a stranger has shown up at my door and so that is a real contemplation for me.”

While Lee is struggling to fundraise to the level of Schiff and Porter, Butler’s decision not to pursue a campaign may benefit Lee somewhat. Lee had initially hoped to be Newsom’s appointment to Feinstein’s seat after he promised to pick a Black woman, in light of Kamala Harris’ ascension to the vice presidency.

Molly Watson, deputy director of the California Donor Table, previously told KQED that a Butler run might complicate strategic decisions for donors in deciding how to back two Black progressive candidates.

“Sen. Butler took on the enormous responsibility of filling an open senate seat with grace, integrity, and a deep commitment to delivering for the people of California. I look forward to continuing our work together for the remainder of her term,” Lee said in a statement on Thursday.

Without the pressure of that competition, Aimee Allison — a vocal ally of Rep. Lee and founder of She the People, which helps elect women of color to office — hoped Butler would now turn her support to helping Lee.

“She has the opportunity to be — once again — a queenmaker, this time for the next Senator of California,” Allison said, in a statement. “We sincerely hope her next step is to join California leaders and the Congressional Black Caucus PAC in endorsing Barbara Lee. That way, she will keep the door wide open for Black women’s representation and the trusted progressive leadership only Barbara Lee can bring to the Senate.”

Butler’s previous consulting work at Bearstar Strategies complicated those union relationships, however. While much of the labor community was excited about Butler’s appointment, some, like UC Irvine professor and labor expert Veena Dubal, criticized Butler’s consulting for Uber in particular as it battled Assembly Bill 5, an effort to grant Uber drivers full employment status. Dubal told The New York Times this month that many in labor “were really angry and really felt like this was treachery.”

While Butler may not be running for the Senate, she has other options: Politico cited sources close to Newsom who said Butler would make a strong candidate for governor in 2026.

This story is developing and will be updated.

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