A Senate race pitting the man who spearheaded former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial, Adam Schiff, against fundraising powerhouse and expert superstar Katie Porter would guarantee fireworks and a price tag of hundreds of millions of dollars.

But add a female candidate representing the Bernie Sanders wing of the party, Ro Khanna, and a living legend who started with the Black Panthers and would become the only black woman in the Senate, Barbara Lee; she now she is talking about a california. Senate race for all time.

And the Democrats are just getting started.

“For many years, a generation of leaders has stood, which has left all these incredibly talented young elected officials circling each other and waiting for the logjam to be broken,” said Dan Newman, a veteran Democratic strategist from California. “It is rare that there is a Senate seat available. And when it does, it’s the equivalent of a lifetime job for a Democrat.»

California is finally having an open Democratic primary that lives up to its progressive reputation, with at least four liberals battling it out for the Senate seat long held by Dianne Feinstein, though Feinstein, 86, has yet to say whether plans to retire. .

It won’t be cheap. Reaching voters is not easy in California, with a population approaching 40 million and a land mass larger than many countries.

But having waited for Democrats like Feinstein, former Sen. Barbara Boxer and former Gov. Jerry Brown to hand over the reins, the candidates are poised to break the bank.

“This very well could break records in terms of the amount spent, not just in California, but probably a national record in terms of an intraparty fight,” said Mike Trujillo, a Democratic strategist and vice president at Los Angeles political firm Bryson. Gillette. . «If you’re selling ad time here in California, that’s going to be a very good time for you.»

Candidates have been told they will need to raise at least $20 million to $40 million. Trujillo guessed that the winning candidate could end up spending more than $100 million, a large sum for a race likely unrelated to control of the Senate, because California will almost certainly send a Democrat to Washington.

But the race will affect the future of the Democratic Party, both in California and beyond. Voters will likely be asked to choose between candidates who, while largely in agreement with the policy, represent different faces and approaches to Democratic politics.

With so much in common, campaigns are working hard to highlight contrasts in their candidates’ backgrounds, political styles and personalities, though so far it’s happening in secret or in veiled public criticism.

“If you want to show Californians that you are a fighter, it means that you could punch one of your opponents just to show that you are in the ring,” Trujillo said.

Porter was the first to enter, announcing it two weeks ago and raising more than $1 million on its first day.

Porter, Elizabeth Warren’s protégé: Her daughter is named after Warren, the Massachusetts senator who was her law school professor. — just won a tough reelection for his seat in the Orange County House of Representatives, a contest that helped boost his national profile based on viral videos of his explaining policy or cross-examining witnesses during hearings.

Porter, a single mother and former law professor, has become a low-cost fundraising powerhouse, raking in more campaign money last year than any other House member except Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. .

Schiff, meanwhile, announced his campaign Thursday in a video highlighting his work investigating and impeaching Trump when he was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. That job made him an anti-Trump hero, a cable news fixture and best-selling author, earning all the right enemies on the right for Democratic primary voters, even though he’s not as associated with politics. progressive like Porter.

The exposure helped Schiff build his own massive fundraising apparatus, which raised only slightly less money than Porter did last year, even though he didn’t run for competitive re-election, making them No. 1 and No. 2. . house fundraisersas well as top party leaders, according to campaign finance tracking site Open Secrets.

Many analysts expect the race to come down to a head-to-head battle between Porter and Schiff, thanks to California’s unusual «jungle primary» system, in which candidates from all parties compete against each other in primaries and first two to get votes. move on to the general elections in November.

Not so fast, say supporters of Lee and Khanna.

They argue that California, the most diverse state in the contiguous United States (only 35% of Californians are non-Hispanic white), should elect a person of color, especially now that former Sen. Kamala Harris has been elevated to the vice presidency.

Senator Alex Padilla became the state’s first Latino senator when he was appointed to replace Harris.

«There’s a reason there isn’t a black woman in the Senate right now, because of the barriers to fundraising and institutional connections,» said Aimee Allison, a Lee supporter and founder of She the People, a group Oakland-based national organization that works to elect women of color.

Lee, who worked with the Black Panthers as a college student in the 1970s, is an icon of the left for her decades of often solitary advocacy in Congress on abortion, civil rights and the Iraq War, which, according to its supporters, was vindicated by history. .

Lee, the highest-ranking black woman in the House, has privately told colleagues that she plans to run, though her easiest path to the Senate would be if Feinstein were to retire early. Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom promised two years ago that name a black woman to complete Feinstein’s term if he resigns, and Lee would be an obvious choice.

“An appointment would be a way to make sure that this country has the essential voice of a black woman,” Allison said. “This is a great opportunity for Senator Feinstein to secure her legacy. And I don’t see and I don’t understand why it’s not happening.»

Meanwhile, as Lee watches Feinstein, Bernieworld watches Lee.

Sanders, I-Vt., easily won California in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, beating President Joe Biden by 8 percentage points and Warren by 22 points.

Sanders has urged Khanna, the Silicon Valley congressman who toured the country and made frequent media appearances as Sanders’ campaign co-chairman, to join the Senate fray.

But Khanna admires Lee and wants to wait and see if she chooses to pursue a serious career before he makes his own decision, a source familiar with his thinking said. Her core team is based in California and is looking to develop, but hasn’t made any new hires so far.

Meanwhile, Khanna and Porter share unimpeachable liberal bona fides, but represent different strands of liberalism, like Sanders and Warren, whose ideological alliance was strained by personal and stylistic differences during their presidential campaigns.

Khanna and Porter also have different geographic bases; Porter hails from Southern California, like Schiff, while Khanna represents the San Francisco Bay Area, like Lee.

Missing from the field with its abundance of Democrats, at least so far, are Republicans or even independents like Rick Caruso, the billionaire who passed $104 million unsuccessfully running for mayor of Los Angeles.

Mark DiCamillo, director of the Berkeley IGS Poll at the University of California, said he’s never seen a race like it, but he’s excited to see the «blockbuster» play out.

“I have been voting in California for over 40 years. What’s really unique is that we have this open race, where anyone can name it and no Republican is joining. None at all, yet,” he said. “That’s the California dynamic right now. It’s a Democratic state, and most of the Republicans running at the top of the ticket are just, I don’t know, sacrificial lambs.»