A candidate who is down but definitely not out

THE BUZZ: WON’T BACK DOWN — Rep. Barbara Lee is doubling down on her campaign for US Senate despite falling short of a decisive showing at the California Democratic Party convention.

Lee’s supporters had hoped the weekend convention in Sacramento would give her campaign a much-needed jolt of momentum. She has struggled for months to gain traction in polls and fundraising to keep peace with Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter.

Delegates supporting the Oakland congressmember were ubiquitous throughout the event, dominating the halls and main floor with their “Barbara Lee Speaks for Me” chants and fluttering yellow-and-green pom poms. She received the loudest applause from party activists as she took the stage for a Q&A-style forum.

Yet while Lee won a slight plurality of the delegate vote, she was effectively tied with Schiff and didn’t notch the 60-percent threshold necessary to win the endorsement. It wasn’t the breakout moment that she would seemingly need to change the race’s trajectory.

Several Democrats in recent weeks told POLITICO that Lee might shift course if she wasn’t successful at the convention, and perhaps even opt to leave the race and run for reelection to the House. That would upset the plans of Democrat Lateefah Simon, the frontrunner to replace Lee in the East Bay district. But people Lee spoke with over the weekend said she made it clear she intends to remain in the Senate race.

“The congresswoman is running one race, and that is to be the next senator for California,” he said Anna Bahrsenior adviser to the campaign.

That means Lee will have to find a spark elsewhere — perhaps starting with her support for a cease-fire in Israel’s war with Hamas. The issue is deeply dividing Democrats across the country. Lee is trying to use it to consolidate progressives in California. She points to her vote against the invasion of Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks as a demonstration of her foresight and independence.

The three leading Democratic candidates agree on most other issues, so the conflict could be the most significant distinction ahead of the March 5 primary. “There’s a very clear contrast on their attitudes toward the military and foreign policy,” Bahr said.

Lee’s Super PAC recently began airing a TV ad introducing her to the statewide electorate. And she’ll have pre-primary debates to boost her standing in the race. Yet it remains an uphill slog — one she’ll now be forced to make without the imprimatur of the party.

— with help from Christopher Cadelago

BUENOS DIAS. Feliz Martes. Thanks for waking up with Playbook.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: We’ll be off for this Thursday and Friday but back to our normal schedule on Monday, Nov. 27.

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WHERE’S GAVIN? Out of state for the Thanksgiving holiday.


RUSTY RUN — California Democratic Party chair Rusty Hicks made the plunge Monday and filed to run for the opening 2nd Assembly District — a hotly-anticipated move that raises questions about both North Coast representation and CADem leadership.

Hicks has not revealed if he’ll step aside as chair, but it wouldn’t be required. Nothing in the bylaws bar party officials from concurrently running for the Legislature. That creates two options: Hicks could either do his day job while running in a competitive primary (there are already three other Democrats seeking the safely blue seat), likely exposing him to conflict-of-interest criticism, or he could step aside in the middle of an election cycle where California could swing the House.

It’s a fast-developing situation: It’s been just 11 days since Assembly member Jim Wood passed on re-election and launched a succession scramble. Yesterday’s filing shows Hicks is taking his shot of him. But prospective CADem candidates are still awaiting Hicks’ next move.

—Jeremy B. White

GOVS DEBATE — Sean Hannity‘s Fox News debate between Newsom and Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is on for Nov. 30 in Alpharetta, Ga., Hannity’s team announced on Monday. One bright spot for Newsom that was tucked into the announcement: The debate will be live and without a studio audience — something the California Democrat was pushing for from the beginning. Newsom and his team have been working to manage expectations ahead of the showdown, suggesting that the three-man dynamic would essentially be 2-on-1, with both DeSantis and Hannity piling on — and airing on a network unfriendly to Democrats.

Newsom sat pre-debate warning to DeSantis with TV ads in Florida and Washington, DC focused on his abortion record. He has also teased DeSantis for even doing the debate since he’s running for president; While DeSantis’ team promised they would “expose to a national audience just how dangerous [Newsom’s] “radical ideology would be for the country.”

Hannity has been the driving force behind the whole contest. He originally got Newsom to agree to let him moderate after Newsom first challenged DeSantis more than a year ago. Then, with DeSantis’ presidential campaign struggling, Hannity re-elected as the Republican presidential candidate. As we previously reported, Newsom ran the idea by President Joe Biden‘s team, which advised him to push off the debate until well into the Republican primary calendar, for a Biden adviser at the time. The same adviser mused that Newsom had cemented his status as a top surrogate when he — you guessed it — appeared in a well-received sparring match with … Hannity.

—Christopher Cadelago

BRAIN FREEZE — The dramatic rise of the biggest player in artificial intelligence has rocked big tech, and could have an impact on San Francisco’s economic recovery.

The dawn of OpenAI and generative artificial intelligence represented one of the biggest evolutions of technology in decades, and, in addition to its weighty implications for humanity, had the potential to supercharge a key California industry that less than a year ago was suffering from mass layoffs .

That was until the weekend’s high drama, when the non-profit board of OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT, removed CEO Sam Altmanprompting outrage and panic from investors and inciting a mutiny amid its nearly 800 employees.

As of Monday night, Altman was on track to join Microsoft, OpenAI’s biggest investor, but employees were still lobbying the board to get him back, or else risk a mass exodus of 700 people who said they were willing to follow Altman to the Seattle- based company.

Regardless of where Altman and his loyal followers land, the events of the last four days aren’t great for the tech industry or San Francisco, which is still struggling to recover from the pandemic. It’s not clear if OpenAI’s employees would leave the Bay altogether, but as the pioneer of open-sourced AI, the company helped launch hundreds of startups and attracted talent to the region.

Now that innovation engine is in shambles, and what had earlier this year been a boon to one of San Francisco’s key industries faces an uncertain future.

DISLODGED: Evictions are once again Soaring in California, surpassing pre-pandemic levels in a dozen of the most populous counties. Pandemic-era moratoriums kept evictions low for several years, but the number of cases has emerged since the last portion of protection was lifted in June 2022. (CalMatters)

TROUBLE IN THE MAGIC KINGDOM: Disney CEO Bob Iger had magic touch during his first run as head of the company. His second round of him has proven to be a bit more difficult. (Los Angeles Times)

TRANSITIONS: FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Marcela Miranda-Caballero is now the executive director of CA Ranked Choice Voting Institute. She previously was a policy advisor at San Diego City Hall, executive director of Disrupt the Corrupt PAC and campaign manager for Ammar Campa Najjar‘s congressional roots.

—Holly Milburn-Smith is now co-executive director of CHANGE, a newly-independent organization which recently spun off from LA’s city government. She most recently was program manager for City Hub and Network for Gender Equity (CHANGE) in the Mayor’s Office of International Affairs of the City of LA

—Ron Klain, former White House chief of staff, is joining Airbnb as chief legal officer, Axios reports.

BIRTHDAYS — (was Monday): Heidi Monkarsh

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